Archive for the 'At Home' Category

The Brick House

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[Swift disclaimer: Doug Anderson is a former critic of ours, a great friend, and a dreamer who created a kickstarter project that not only got made, but is one this critic highly recommends!]

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (5 People gave this 4.80 out of 5)
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“You’re a true fool.” Leonard Wolf

The Brick House

Swift shot: The Three Little Pigs is one of the most recognizable fairy tales of all time. In The Brick House, Director Gustavo Cervantes and Co-Writer Doug Layne Anderson present a relatable modern story that masterfully weaves almost all of the classic elements that we all grew up reading. As three estranged brother pigs are reunited when their beloved uncle meets an untimely end and wills them his property . . . a nearly burned down brick house. Things get problematic when they don’t agree on what to do with the property. Some things are not for sale, and families are complicated.

Using the classic, straw, sticks, and bricks devices with a modern slant, the story unfolds as a pack of wolves serve as greedy land developers, in a believable thriller that deserves to be watched. And, fret not, these aren’t animated pigs, they are very real, and they feel very real in how they are presented. They are vulnerable and soft characters that face genuine peril. The makeup folks at North Fur deserve praise for giving these creatures an animus that immediately conveys what Cervantes and Anderson were hoping for in every scene.

Brother pigs Jack (Josh New), Bill (Gallagher Goodland) and Curly (Thomas Johnson) are distinct characters with evolving qualities as the film progresses, and each one grows from their experience at the brick house. Byron Wolf (Brendan Hopkins), James Wolf (Andy Woodard) and the leader of the pack of land grabbers that puts even Harry Reid to shame, Leonard Wolf (Bill Terpenning/Dave Lovell) are greedy developers who won’t take no for an answer.

I can tell you that Leonard Wolf was the most menacing wolf I have personally witnessed on screen since my favorite cult-classic, Dog Soldiers. When Leonard speaks, everyone in the room pays attention. He proves to be much more shrewd and ruthless than his words shroud. When he finally reveals his true nature, it’s downright chilling.

Jack is too trusting of the characters he meets, especially the wolves. Bill is essentially the coward who goes along with anyone who can influence him. Curly is the “what is in this for me” type who harbors resentment towards Jack for leaving. ¬†The brothers must find a common ground, as the wolves are steadily demanding they sell.

The Brick House is a true indie film. The funds were gathered up on kickstarter, and even I chipped in a few bucks to help bring this classic story to screen. Now you have giants in the media asking for crowdfunding – it’s disgusting! This is the kind of film, and studio, that needs kickstarter/indiegogo to survive.

Because this is a true indie film, there are raw edges in places. They are smoothed out by some artistic cinematography, creative camera work and superb original music by Anderson. The story is compelling and even gripping as you reach the climax of the film desperately hoping these little pigs manage to defeat the wolves. And, maybe this fairy tale doesn’t have a happy ending?

This is a thriller that could easily find a place next to your copy of the original Straw Dogs, it uses a slow crescendo of suspense to build-up to a dramatic conclusion with sympathetic characters you are sure to be rooting for. That is, unless you favor land developers who will stop at nothing to gain land, I mean, if you are the type who rooted for the Bureau of Land Management using SWAT teams and tasing folks at the Bundy Ranch – maybe this film isn’t for you.

The Brick House pulls you in every second. We all know the story, but no one is sure how it is going to end! That is what I especially loved about the film.

 

Oldboy

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

**½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 2.00 out of 5)
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Old Hat

Oldboy

The H-Bomb: Yuppie, alcoholic douche bag Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin) gets royally hammered after blowing a big business deal on the night of his daughter’s third birthday. He awakens from his drunken stupor to find himself inside a strange hotel room. After discovering that there is no phone, no window, and the only door is locked up tight, Joe realizes that he’s being held prisoner in this room. Day in and day out, Joe remains locked in the room, with only the television and a creepy portrait of a grinning bellhop to keep him company. His meals, usually dumplings from a Chinese restaurant and a bottle of liquor, are shoved through the slot in the door three times a day, but his attempts to speak with whoever is delivering the food are fruitless.

He finds out, via the television, that his ex-wife has been murdered, and that he has been framed for the crime. It’s then that he figures out, as if it wasn’t obvious before, that there’s some kind of plot against him. But who would do this to him, and why? After writing down a list of all the people he may have pissed off in the past, he realizes that there are countless possibilities. He’s wronged more than a few people in his life, and any one of them could be the one behind all this.

Sadly, Joe can’t do any more to narrow down the list of suspects from inside the room, and he’s not going anywhere for a long, long time. 20 years to be exact. For 20 goddamn years Joe is locked in that room. In that time, he manages to give up drinking and get himself into fighting shape, in case the day that he’s able to take revenge ever comes. Then, after all that time, he’s finally set free. But, whoever held him prisoner is hardly done with him, as he soon receives a call from his former captor, some bloke with a British accent, telling him that he has kidnapped his now adult daughter, and if he ever wants to see her again, he has only a few days to come and find them.

It’s not as if Joe needed the extra motivation, but nevertheless, the clock is ticking, and he’ll need to go digging deeply into his own past to try and figure out who the hell his sadistic tormentor is, and what he might have done to this person to make them go to such extreme lengths to exact their revenge.

I can’t really go on a tirade against Hollywood remakes of foreign films, as there have been some that I’ve genuinely enjoyed. Sure, there’s been shit like The Vanishing, or Swept Away, or any Asian horror remake that isn’t The Ring, but there have been some honest to God good ones, like The Departed and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Spike Lee’s “re-imagining” of Oldboy, based on Park Chan-Wook’s brutally awesome South Korean thriller of the same name, falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not good, nor is it bad, it just‚Ķ is.

In a way, this is a tremendous letdown, as any movie with a premise as brilliantly bizarre as Oldboy’s, shouldn’t be merely okay. It either should be really fucking good, or really fucking bad. But to be so utterly forgettable, and to leave me the viewer feeling so completely indifferent to it, is much worse. Even if it had been terrible, I at least wouldn’t be shrugging it off without so much as a second thought. But as it stands, the only reason I’m paying it any thought at all, is so that I may review it for you, dear readers.

The pedigree of this Oldboy remake certainly isn’t the kind one would associate with mediocrity. I’m not exactly a fan of Spike Lee, however, I often do find his films provocative, if nothing else. Not so much the case with this one. Curiously branded “A Spike Lee Film” instead of the usual “A Spike Lee Joint,” this is a telling sign that Lee simply had no passion for this project. The vibrancy typically found in one of his “joints” is almost entirely absent, and despite some slick cinematography and a handful of interesting shots, there is next to no energy in the picture. Nothing in the story, not the ticking clock element, or even the stomach churning final twist, has any sense of urgency, and Lee’s rather limp recreation of the famous hallway hammer fight is but a shadow of the one from the original film.

It really is apparent that Lee’s heart just wasn’t in this at all, that it was merely a payday for him, and nothing more. Which is a crying shame, because it seemed to me like his leading man, Brolin, actually gave a shit. At first coming off as a hilariously buffoonish drunk, then transforming into a half-crazed, vengeance minded badass, he is tough, tense, and simply terrific here. His tussle with some punk ass football players has that oomph that the rest of the movie’s violence lacks, and the wince inducing scene where he takes a box cutter to Samuel L. Jackson’s throat would be a classic, if only it were in a better, and even halfway memorable, film. Brolin is definitely a forceful presence on screen, and he could’ve carried this movie, it’s just that Mark Protosevich’s screenplay never gave us a reason to care about his slime ball character.

Oh, but did I mention that Samuel L. Jackson is in this? Well, he is, but it’s of little consequence, because despite sporting a goofy ass mohawk, his role as a heavy is ultimately ineffectual‚Ķ and I didn’t think it was possible for SLJ to be ineffectual, but the movie found a way. Another disappointing turn comes from Sharlto Copley, who was so tremendously nasty as the bad guy in Elysium, but as the underwritten villain of this flick, he doesn’t even rise to the level of mildly creepy. Elizabeth Olsen, as a sympathetic nurse, has a few nice moments with Brolin, and a rather showy sex scene, but ultimately, she doesn’t register much, either. Damn, that’s three excellent actors that Lee managed to completely waste‚Ķ how does he do it?

In a way, this whole movie is a complete waste. A waste of time, money, and effort, for both the filmmakers and the audience. Again, not because it’s a bad movie, but because it’s such a painfully average one. It really does boggle the mind how Spike Lee was able to take something as gruesomely audacious as the original Oldboy, drain away all the potency, and leave us with a film this shockingly bland. He has remained largely faithful to the original’s story, and he didn’t neuter it in order to make it PG-13 friendly, but it completely lacks the outlandish punch that made its Korean counterpart so memorable. As far as remakes go, it’s perfectly watchable, thanks mainly to Josh Brolin doing his damnedest, but given the source material, this could’ve, and should’ve, been so much more.

~@TheHManTweeteth

 

Bethlehem

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

****

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The never-ending cycle…

Bethlehem

The H-Bomb:¬† 17-year-old Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i) is a Palestinian living in the ancient city of Bethlehem whose older brother, Ibrahim (Slmnham), is a wanted terrorist responsible for a deadly bombing in Jerusalem.¬† Sanfur has been living in his brother’s shadow his entire life, and he’s been constantly trying to prove his manhood by pulling such stunts as wearing a flak vest and having his friends shoot him with an AK-47.¬† As Sanfur grows older, he gets the attention of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades leader, Badawi (Hitham Omari), who is currently in a power struggle with the Palestinian Authority, and who sees real potential in the young man.

However, there is something about Sanfur that neither Badawi, or Ibrahim, or anyone else in his family or circle of friends know‚Ķ that he is an informant for the Israelis.¬† Recruited at the age of fifteen, he regularly feeds information to Israeli Intelligence Agent, Razi (Tsahi Halevi), who has bonded with him, earned his trust, and has become more of a big brother to him than his actual brother.¬† What Razi hasn’t told Sanfur, is that the man he is currently hunting is Ibrahim, and that he is closing in on him very quickly.

If Ibrahim is eliminated, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, as well as Sanfur, will surely want retribution.  What if Sanfur discovers that Razi is indeed tracking his brother, and what if Badawi, or some other member of Al-Aqsa, finds out that Sanfur is collaborating with the Israelis?  It seems inevitable that the poor lad will be forced into a lose-lose position as his double life starts to catch up to him.

Israel-Palestine, Palestine-Israel‚Ķ what a lovely little cluster-fuck.¬† The fact that this conflict has been going on for the better part of seven decades now, and shows no signs of stopping at any point in the foreseeable future, makes pretty much any movie brave enough to tackle this topic timely.¬† But what makes a film like Bethlehem relevant is that, unlike Steven Spielberg’s excellent Munich, it was made by people who have actually lived this conflict.¬† Making his feature film debut, Israeli director Yuval Adler, and his co-screenwriter, Arab reporter Ali Waked, imbue the film with the kind of authenticity that can only come from first hand experience.

While merely a political thriller on the surface, Bethlehem ultimately tells an all-too-human tale about a young man born into a situation where the prospects for his future are rather bleak, and who is constantly being manipulated by everyone around him.  By his father, who constantly reminds him what a disappointment he is next to his brother, by Badawi, who aims to make Sanfur a protege and, ultimately, a martyr, and by Razi, who does genuinely care for Sanfur, but demands that he betray his people.

Adler seamlessly weaves these humanistic elements in with the intrigue, giving the events that unfold a real emotional impact.¬† We’re made to care about Sanfur, we’re made to care about Razi.¬† Not as Israelis or Palestinians, but as people.¬† Even the terrorist leader, Badawi, while never coming off as sympathetic (at least not to me), does come off as a man who truly believes in his cause, and that what he is doing is right and necessary, instead of simply being a dastardly evil doer who does evil things because that’s what dastardly evil doers do.

The actors, all of whom are amateurs, also bring a strong sense of realism to their characters.¬† That these are first time actors is surprising, particularly in the case of Halevi and Mar’i, who deliver layered performances conveying the inner struggles of the two protagonists; Halevi is commanding as the man who has to balance the duties of defending his country with the father-like responsibility he feels for Sanfur, with whom he has clearly grown more attached to than he should have, and the young Mar’i, who does an exceptional job of showing the torn loyalties he feels.

Amateur actors displaying such a level of complexity is quite impressive.¬† Although, perhaps their level of complexity shouldn’t be so surprising, since, again, these are people who have lived in this unenviable situation their entire lives, on both sides of the divide.¬† Perhaps it all comes naturally to them, as that old saying goes, they aren’t acting so much as they’re simply being.¬† Either way, color me impressed.

With a gritty, rough-around-the-edges look to the cinematography that adds to its overall believability, Bethlehem sets its two protagonists down a destructive path of no return that can only end tragically for both of them.¬† It’s with this intimate human tragedy that the film, with sober-eyed clarity, encapsulates the larger tragedy of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict.¬† Exciting and moving in equal parts, Bethlehem is an exceedingly smart, riveting thriller that doesn’t possess all the answers, but that does ask all the right questions.

 

Rise of the Fellowship

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

***

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What do you think would turn four friends into adventurers? In December 2013, we were shown exactly what would do that: An epic quest!

Rise of the Fellowship

Directing this 92 minute adventure/comedy/fantasy is Ron Newcomb.

Some of the adventurous cast is: Justin Moe as Randall, Jayme Bell as Squirrelly, Cole Matson as Nate, Emma Earnest as Stacey, Jason Kriznarich as Joe, Drew Trementozzi as Thad/Gollum Kid,  Ron Newcomb as Stan, Pete Stephen Rourke and Wolf J. Sherrill as Baba Melvin Schnabel.

Randall and his friends have heard the greatest news in the world. There is going to be a Lord of the Rings online game competition. The game store Randall works at is hosting a smaller qualifying competition to see which team from their area will make it to the big competition. It’s an honor every team wants, and some will do anything to make sure their team is the one that makes it to the competition.

Unfortunately, due to a villainous plot, Randall is unable to make it to the qualifying competition, which leaves his team a man short and far from victory. Crushed hopes and dreams will soon lead these four friends on what will be an epic quest. One of courage, redemption… and of course, honor.

Some movies motivate us to do great things, while some movies inspire us to create great things. Here you have both in one package.

Now, I don’t know about you but I’m a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) fan, and well, after watching this flick I got the feeling that writers Christopher Bunn, Scott Mathias and Ron Newcomb are… really big fans. As we’ve all seen, sometimes when a great movie hits the media world we as viewers have been flooded with less than interesting carbon copies trying to tell that same tale over and over. Here you get something… well, different, which has a really cool playthrough. Now, by no means is this a serious film, but an adventurous, cheesy, fun, LOTR reference filled parody. So I can see this movie not being everyone’s cup of tea, but for gamers and/or LOTR fans, I’d recommend it for at least a one time watch.

Most of the cast does a good job, but yeah not the best acting from beginning to end. Something I didn’t know was this one is officially authorized by the LOTR brand, which I thought was pretty cool. There are some great LOTR transitions and references used throughout the film that make for some great scenes. Overall, if you’re not familiar with the whole LOTR thing you may not find much enjoyment here… and it also means you’ve missed out on a great trilogy. Which that makes me sad. Yet for the other 80% of the population that is familiar with the trilogy, I say grab some popcorn and give it a spin. It might even become your next precious.

 

 

The Hunt

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

****

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Guilty until proven innocent.

The Hunt

The H-Bomb:¬† Danish school teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is in the middle of putting his life back together after a divorce, working in a kindergarten and trying to win full custody of his son.¬† He is well liked in his small community, and is very popular with the children he teaches.¬† All of that changes, however, when he is accused by one of his young students of inappropriately exposing himself.¬† The student, it turns out, is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of Lucas’s best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen).¬† Assuming that little Klara has no reason to make any of this up, the school officials suspend Lucas while the authorities investigate.

Unfortunately for Lucas, the repercussions do not end there, as rumors of his alleged misdeeds spread throughout town.¬† Before he knows it, he’s been ostracized from most of his friends, he’s lost all visitation rights with his son, and other children at the kindergarten are starting to come forward with allegations of their own.¬† What’s most distressing to Lucas, is that he knows he’s innocent, but he can’t get anyone, even people he’s known his entire life, to listen.¬† And even if he is one day exonerated, there’s still the question of whether or not his reputation will ever recover.

Co-written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, and nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, The Hunt is one hell of a disturbing movie.¬† One of the most disturbing I’ve seen in recent memory.¬† I have about as much sympathy for a child molester as I would for a Nazi war criminal; however, I do have to wonder, what if someone is falsely accused of such a heinous crime?¬† We can hope that justice will prevail and they will be cleared, but what about what happens to them in the meantime?¬† To their name, their reputation, their social and professional lives?

It’s the kind of crime in which, figuratively, one is guilty until proven innocent, and just the accusation alone, no matter how baseless, is enough to completely ruin a person.¬† To give an example from my own life, years back I was working on the crew of an independent feature, and the cinematographer was a fairly experienced guy who I got along with quite well.¬† One day, the director discovered something about the guy’s background: that he was on the sex offender registry for child pornography charges.¬† My impression of him changed in an instant.¬† As it happened, the guy was guilty, and the rest of the cast and crew rightly wanted nothing more to do with him.¬† But even if he turned out to be innocent, I still never would have looked at him in the same light again.

That is what The Hunt conveys, in low key but effective fashion, that the accusation alone can be irreversibly damning.¬† Here, Lucas’¬† good name is tarnished by something completely beyond his control.¬† By taking a naturalistic, almost documentary-like approach, the film simply shows him trying to cope with this waking nightmare, while never hitting a false note.¬† With the townsfolk looking at him with contempt and distrust, people vandalizing his home, and, predictably, someone doing something horrible to his beloved dog (and that was very predictable), we are made to feel his pain, his confusion, and his growing sense of frustration.

We know Lucas is innocent.¬† That he’s a good, honest man who is entirely undeserving of this persecution. That is why The Hunt is so troubling.¬† Downright fucking scary, when one stops to think about it.¬† Not simply because the events depicted are entirely believable, but because they could happen literally to anyone.¬† I could be Lucas, you could be Lucas, anyone could be Lucas, and things could play out exactly as they do here, with people, even those closest to you, assuming the absolute worst.¬† That’s what the film drives home, that it is all so frighteningly plausible.

The movie’s believability is aided in so small way by Mikkelsen’s pitch perfect lead performance.¬† Taking a break from playing larger-than-life villains in things like Casino Royale and TV’s Hannibal, Mikkelsen is surprisingly subtle and down to earth as Lucas.¬† He portrays Lucas with warmth and a sense of dignity, someone whose patience is constantly being tested, and whose sanity is ultimately pushed to the edge.¬† Mikkelsen’s work here is tremendously layered, and authentic in every way.¬† This is by far the best performance I’ve ever seen from him.

As powerful as Mikkelsen and the story itself are, I can’t help but wonder if The Hunt would have benefited from being more ambiguous.¬† What if, instead of making it clear that Lucas is innocent, it was less certain, if we the audience weren’t entirely sure if he was guilty or not.¬† Yes, it might have changed the nature and the meaning of the film, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more effective, at least in a mind fuck kind of way, if we simply didn’t know for sure.

That stated, The Hunt, as it is, is still one positively chilling motion picture.¬† It’s most definitely European in its mood and pacing, and it is subtitled, but don’t let that scare you off, as it is a film very worthy of your time.¬† It’s a provocative, realistic look at how a single little lie can destroy a life, and it is absolutely compelling, all the way up to it’s very troubling final scene.

 

 

The Wolverine

Monday, January 13th, 2014

***½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 4.50 out of 5)
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“You don’t want what I’ve got.”

The Wolverine

The H-Bomb: Several years after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman), a mutant once known as Wolverine, has given up the super hero life in favor of living as a hermit in the woods, where he is haunted in his dreams by his late lady friend, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). One night, after scuffling with some scumbags in a local bar, Logan is approached by some bug-eyed Japanese chick, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who has been sent by a wealthy old acquaintance of his, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), to bring him to Japan. Once upon time, way, way back, Logan saved Yashida’s life. Now, Yashida is dying of old age, and he wishes to see his immortal friend one last time.

After some persuading, Logan agrees to go, so long as it’s just for a day (famous last words). When he visits Yoshida by his death bed, he finds out that the old man didn’t simply wish to say goodbye, he wants something from Logan… something that Logan is not ready to give. Later that night, Yoshida passes away, and the next day, at his funeral, all hell breaks loose as some mysterious goons attempt to kidnap his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). Tasked with acting as her guardian, Logan finds himself being hunted across Japan by Yakuza, Ninjas, a duplicitous American doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova), and God knows who else as he tries to figure out who wants them dead and why.

As if that isn’t enough, Logan notices that when he gets injured, he doesn’t magically heal up the way he’s supposed to. He seems curiously… mortal. In order to get to the bottom of what’s happening, Logan has no choice but to confront his inner demons, dust off his adamantium claws, and once again become the Wolverine. Let the hacking and slashing begin…

To be perfectly honest, I don’t really give a damn about X-Men. I saw the first film in theaters, and it more or less shot in one ear and out the other. When X2 came out on DVD, I rented it, pretty much the same thing happened, and I never bothered with any of the X-Men films after that. I’m not at all suggesting they’re bad movies (though I hear the third one is kind of shitty), they just never hooked me in. However, I have always been intrigued by the Wolverine character, and by Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of him. He brought such charisma and such a perfect air of belligerent badass that I’ve always found him utterly compelling in the role. I was even interested in checking out X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the overwhelmingly negative word of mouth on that one kept me away.

Now, we get Jackman’s second stab at a standalone Wolverine film, the “forget the last one, this time we got it right” movie, The Wolverine. Directed by James Mangold (Cop Land, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma), this latest spin-off of the X-Men franchise is about two thirds of a damn terrific movie. Eschewing the typical comic book campiness, The Wolverine is actually structured and plotted more like a conspiracy/chase film, one that favors intrigue and characterization over bombastic action set pieces. That’s not to say there isn’t any action, because there most certainly is, plenty of it, including a fantastic fight set on top of a speeding bullet train, it’s just that the story and the characters are the driving forces here.

This, naturally, means that Jackman would have to rely on more than his physical prowess, which is itself impressive, in order to carry the picture, and he does exactly that. This is a conflicted, tormented Wolverine who’s running from his past, while trying to cope with his new found mortality, and Jackman brings his A game. This is his sixth time playing the character, and you’d think he’d be getting tired of it by now, but alas, he continues to play Logan with uncanny conviction. He is given immeasurable support by Japanese actresses Okamoto and Fukushima, both making their feature film debuts. Fukushima, in particular, is impressive as an ass kicking psychic mutant who knows her way around a Samurai blade.

Less impressive is Janssen, reprising her role from the first three X-Men movies. There’s nothing wrong with her performance, the problem is that the movie overuses her. All we needed were one, maybe two dream sequences with her, to get across that Logan feels guilty over her death. But we get scene, after scene, after scene… she pops up several times through out the film to lay the guilt trip on him, and it got really redundant really quickly. But, that’s a rather minor criticism.

A major criticism would be the film’s entire third act. As stated, the first two thirds of The Wolverine play out like an awesome, gritty thriller, even if the opening asks us to believe that one can survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a well. Then the last third happens, and all the cool grittiness and brooding character development goes right out the window. Set entirely inside a James Bond villain lair, with CGI mutant morphing and a giant, robotic Samurai straight out of Sucker Punch, The Wolverine basically turns into a big, loud, dumb comic book movie, the kind of which it spent so much time trying not to be. Add on to that a tacked on post credits scene that’s meant to set up X-Men: Future of Ass’s Past or whatever the fuck it’s called, and we’re stuck with two thirds of a great movie that totally derails in the final act. Tragic.

But, up until the 100 minute mark, The Wolverine really is one hell of an entertaining flick, with a tour-de-force showing from Jackman and a surprisingly engaging story. I liked it so much it has made me interested in checking out the older X-Men movies (and even the first Wolverine film) to see if maybe I can get into them. If you’re an X-Men fan, it’s required viewing. If you’re not, then it might just make you into one.

 

Blackfish

Friday, January 10th, 2014
It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (30 People gave this 3.30 out of 5)
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Michael Moore couldn’t have done a better one-sided smear piece if he tried.

Dawn Brancheau 2008

Swift shot: If you have ever owned a pet, gone to the zoo, or even to a fair where they have pony rides for your kids, according to Blackfish . . . you are a horrible person. Oh, and if you have ever had a ham sandwich, eaten a steak or any other mammal, you are equally as horrible, but they don’t dare go there. No, they lead off with the capture of baby Orcas in the 1970s, ripping them from their mother’s pod as they screeched. According to some guy who has seen two wars or something, it was the most horrible thing he’s witnessed. Clearly, he hasn’t seen much of war. But, I digress, I come to bury Blackfish and its PETA-fueled director, Gabriela Cowperthweight. That is my agenda.

I have known one of the current (not FORMER) employees of Sea World since we were six years old; I consider him a brother from another mother. I flat out asked him when I heard about Dawn, “Dude, what the hell happened?” I can’t remember his exact words, but he made it known that these things are called killer whales for a reason (they are the top predator of the ocean), and maybe Tilikum just wanted to play and got carried away. Tilikum is known to be quite possessive of his toys. Ultimately though, I do remember him saying you can’t anthropomorphize Tilikum, because he can’t give you a reason – he can’t tell us what happened.

He was told flat out the first day he worked at “Believe” – you don’t go into the water with Tilikum, because you might not come out. That is just part of the job.

You see, Tilikum is this mammal that can’t quite seem to grasp the concept of death, to him, Dawn was just a toy. Or, we could hypothesize the opposite and say that Tilikum is a serial killer . . . whale. Or we could draw the conclusion that he only killed, because he was a captive animal – sooner or later they are going to snap. Or we could draw the conclusion that he was just really pissed off that day at Dawn, because she didn’t give him enough fish. Do I need to hold up a sarcasm sign?

The point is, these are killer creatures, predators. I will give the director credit for showing the footage of the seal being expertly stalked by a group of lethal Orcas. Oh, wait, do you see what I just did there? I distinguished a group of them as lethal, that’s kinda what the film tries to do too. It is Tilikum’s demon seed that (because he was raised in captivity) has spread across theme-parks worldwide. Thing is, you can’t distinguish one group as lethal and another as docile – in the wild they all gotta eat, right? So, which is it, is it nature or nurture? Is it his genetic pool (sue me, I like puns) or his upbringing? Guess what, folks? I have a degree in psychology, and that debate has still not been settled for humans! Guess what else, folks? Whales are mammals, just like us, so if we can’t settle the debate for humans, how can we settle it for whales that have a “language” we can’t understand?

Since the film’s previews all use the horrific capture footage to get you to watch the film, let’s just say it like it is. Sea LAND, which no longer exists, captured Tilikum, not Sea World. An ommitted fact from the film is something called the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which prohibits collecting whales. Also, while Sea World’s previous owners (in the 70s, prior to the law forbidding it) collected other whales, the park has gone through three other owners since then. This law is in force across the country.

But, to punctuate the facts, when Sea LAND closed, releasing, captivity raised, Tilikum into the wild would have been a death sentence. Sea World is world-renowned for their compassionate programs to protect animals exactly like Tilikum – since my friend and I have been alive, at least.

That is why they use Tilikum’s seed to breed them in captivity, so they don’t separate mothers from their kids in the wild anymore. They agree with the law. So, spare me your attacks on Sea World. For one, my friend spent his whole life loving just about every animal on land, air, or sea – and now he gets to interact with them on a daily basis. He gets paid for doing what he loves, and some PETA-smear piece is going to put him out of work, because he loves working with animals? Well, I don’t think so! I am not letting you go after my friend’s livelihood without a fight. I too am a mammal that spent years in captivity.

Dawn lived doing what she loved. Dawn died doing what she loved. We should all be so lucky, and if I ever get the call that my friend dies at Sea World, so be it. I’ll be beyond devastated, but I will know that he died doing something he believed in . . . just like when I was in the Marines, folks. If I died when I was in, my family would have been devastated, but I would have died doing something I believed in. All the film-makers are looking to do is capitalize on Dawn’s death, they don’t believe in what she stood for.

The footage from Mark Simmons was when I finally saw what the director was doing. She selectively edited his pieces, interwoven with others before, and after, to look like it was Mark saying that captive animals will always turn out bad, when in fact that is the exact opposite of what he said . . . if you pay attention, that is. I’m not watching it again to suss out all the other lies and manipulations.

In the end, all you have here is a one-sided, agenda-fueled exploitation piece smearing a good company, a good person, and an industry that isn’t quite as evil as they would have you Believe.

So, if you have ANY outrage over Blackfish, and just “can’t believe what humans can do” – fine, don’t eat meat, don’t own a pet, don’t go to a zoo, don’t attend a fair, and put a porpoise on your next ballot . . . otherwise, you are a hypocrite. And, of course, that is exactly what PETA wants! Oh, and the film’s main expert is actually named Duffus – that should be a clue to take this film for exactly what it is, a fiction-fueled sham.

~@rickswift 

 

 

Paradise

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

*½

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Far from it.

Paradise

The H-Bomb: When a terrible accident leaves most of her body covered in burn scars, mid-western Christian girl, Lamb (Julianne Hough), undergoes a major crisis of faith. She flips out and goes on a religion bashing tirade in her church, and then, much to the shock and horror of her parents (Holly Hunter, Nick Offerman), she hops a plane to the devil’s playground itself, Las Vegas, where she hopes to see and do all the things her religion told her she never could.

A genuine fish out of water, Lamb suffers from severe culture shock upon landing in Sin City, as everywhere she goes she encounters drinking, gambling, lewd dancing, hooker cards, girls in short skirts, and Muslim cab drivers(!). For a girl who was forbidden from ever wearing shorts, or going out on dates without a chaperone, it’s all just so much to take in. It doesn’t help that Lamb is very self-conscious about her disfigurement, and feels the need to cover up as much of her body as possible.

Eventually, Lamb’s wanderings lead her to a bar being tended by William (Russell Brand), who pours Lamb her first alcoholic drink‚Ķ which she promptly spits up. Recognizing that this little Lamb is way out of her depth, William and the bar’s lounge singer, Loray (Octavia Spencer), decide to take her on a guided tour of the “real” Vegas‚Ķ which basically consists of hitting up bars, bars, and more bars, with a trip to the pharmacy to pick up some much needed pain killers and a heart to heart talk with a hooker thrown in for good measure. What ensues is a painfully dull all-nighter that most definitely should have stayed in Vegas.

Paradise marks the directorial debut of Oscar winning scribe Diablo Cody, and serves as undeniable proof that not all screenwriters, even exceptionally talented ones, are meant to be directors. Things get off to a promising enough start, as Lamb rips her small, conservative church a new one with Cody’s scathingly witty dialogue, that is as sharp as ever. It has a solid theme, with an overly sheltered young woman seeing and experiencing the world for the first time, and discovering herself along the way. That all sounds well and good, doesn’t it?

So, where, o’ where, does Paradise go so, so wrong? Long and short of it, Cody’s direction. While the films made from her scripts that were helmed by Jason Reitman had a great deal of spark and spunk to spare, Paradise is just flat and lifeless. I would never have believed that a film set mostly in Las Vegas could be so visually dreary, with bland cinematography that would barely cut the muster for a Lifetime movie, but alas.

Cody’s lack of visual flair, however, is really a minor problem. It’s her non-existent sense of pacing that’s the real issue. There are so many scenes that just sit there, as if all the energy and urgency have been sucked right out of them. Events simply unfold in a very blas√© manner, so much so that even the moments that were meant to be emotional and affecting fail to strike any kind of chord. It’s Cody’s indifferent direction that gives the picture an overall lack of weight and a sense of plodding that makes the scant 87 minute running time feel twice as long.

While Cody proves to be a fairly inept director, she really could have helped herself immeasurably had she handed herself a better script. As stated, her trademark dialogue starts out entertaining enough in the beginning, but completely loses its bite somewhere along the way, and ultimately becomes just as banal as everything else in the movie. This is probably the first film Cody has written where I can’t recall a single witty or memorable quote from it. Not a one. Hell, even the lackluster Jennifer’s Body had some quotable lines.

The cast tries here, they really do, with Hough making a surprisingly appealing lead. With the wrong actress in the role, Lamb could have come off, in some instances, as a complete caricature, a cartoon version of a provincial small town girl, and in others, as a whiny, self-centered bitch, when she brays on and on about her misfortunes. But Hough, in spite of the script, and the character’s laughably obvious name, managed to make her human and empathetic.

I was also surprised by Brand, who I never liked, as a comedian or an actor, but here, as the roving-eyed barman who develops a genuine affection for Lamb, he’s sympathetic and even kind of‚Ķ charming‚Ķ kind of. I also liked Spencer as the straight talking Loray, who tries to impart some wisdom on the naive Lamb. There’s a moment in which she comments on the role of wise, black characters in movies that I found rather amusing. It was the cast alone that saved this dismal, flavorless film from the one star stamp of death.

Sadly, as hard as the actors try, there simply is no saving Paradise. A boring script, plus boring direction, equals a boring movie. There is just no way around it, this movie’s failure falls entirely at the feet of Diablo Cody, who must have been going through a particularly uninspired phase when she wrote this dreck, then decided to shoot it herself. I do hope this is merely a phase, that she hasn’t lost all inspiration, as she’s shown herself to be immensely talented in the past. I also hope that she hasn’t lost Jason Reitman’s phone number, because, as Paradise clearly demonstrates, directing is not where Ms. Cody’s talents lie.

 

Before Midnight

Monday, December 30th, 2013

****

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“To passing through…”

Before Midnight

The H-Bomb: In 1995, versatile indie filmmaker Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly) brought us Before Sunrise, a charming romantic comedy-drama about 23-year-old American, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) who meets young French woman, Celine (Julie Delpy), on a train to Vienna. They end up getting off the train together, and spend the night wandering the streets of Vienna, discussing their dreams, their philosophies, and practically everything else under the moon. A romance blossoms, but because Jesse’s going back to the States the next day, it can’t last. So, they make a deal to meet again in Vienna six months later.

That film ended on the uncertainty of whether or not Jesse and Celine would make the rendezvous. Nine years later, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy re-united for a sequel, Before Sunset, and we got the answer to that question… they didn’t. However, Jesse, at this point 32 and married with a son, did write a book about that night, and while on a signing tour in Paris, he meets up with Celine once again. They only have about 90 minutes before Jesse has to leave for the airport, so they mosey about Paris playing catch up with each other, and during their time together, they find their spark re-kindling, and their romance deepening. They end up back at Celine’s apartment, with Jesse no longer caring if he makes his flight or not.

Unabashedly romantic, but emotionally frank and realistic, with two fantastic performances set against a beautiful back drop, Before Sunset was a delightful surprise in that it was just exceptional on every level. I was rather astonished, in the best way possible, at how much I genuinely loved it, and it turned out to be one of my favorite movies of 2004. Now, jumping ahead another nine years, we catch up with Jesse and Celine again in Before Midnight. They’ve been together for most of the past decade, and while they’ve never married, they do have twin daughters. It’s the end of the summer, and they’ve spent the past six weeks vacationing at a friend’s guest house in the Greek countryside.

They’re (obviously) now in their early forties, and while they still excel at discussing life, love, and philosophy to no end, they are also dealing with many more insecurities now that they’ve reached middle-age. Jesse may still dress like a twenty-something bohemian hipster, but as of late, he’s been having trouble coming up with a workable idea for his next novel. He’s also a bit alarmed at how fast his son, who’s starting high school, is growing up. And since he only sees his son during summer and winter breaks, he worries that he’s missing out on his “most important” years.

Celine, meanwhile, is a bundle of neuroses all her own. She’s all too aware that she’s not getting any younger, and she fears that, professionally, she never will live up to her potential. It doesn’t help that Jesse is talking about moving to Chicago to be closer to his son, which would mean she would have to give up her career, altogether. All of these festering concerns, as well as the many other misgivings that Jesse and Celine have towards each other, come to a head on what was supposed to be their final romantic evening in Greece. As their bickering gradually escalates and turns into all out arguing, everything will boil down to one simple question, do they still love each other, or is it perhaps time for them to call it quits?

Before Midnight has left me feeling rather torn. On the one hand, Hawke and Delpy, who have once again co-scripted along with Linklater, are absolutely terrific in the roles that they created nearly two decades ago. They slide right back into these characters as if they never left. Their chemistry is undeniable, their relationship is utterly believable, and they make Jesse and Celine as endearing as ever. Spending time with these two and listening to them gab on and on about anything and everything is a pleasure that I’m happy to indulge in anytime. Then there are the picturesque Greek locales, which are beautifully photographed by cinematographer Christos Voudouris, that add to the experience immeasurably.

On the other hand, there’s something, slight but noticeable, missing this time. I got the feeling early on in the film that something was amiss, when Jesse and Celine are interacting with several other characters, most notably at a rather lengthy dinner table scene. It never ceased to be entertaining and interesting, but in the earlier films, it was all about Jesse and Celine being together, and their interactions with others were kept to a bare minimum. This time, roughly half the film is them hanging out with a group of friends, and to me it seemed weirdly intrusive. I’m here to spend time with Celine and Jesse, and see how their relationship has evolved, who the fuck are all these other people, and why won’t they go away? Maybe it’s just me, but I found the presence of these outsiders a wee bit irksome, after a while.

Then, in second half, Celine and Jesse are finally by themselves, and at last, Before Midnight started to feel more in step with the previous movies. They walk and talk through all sorts of pretty scenery like before, and then, when they get to their hotel, they get into that aforementioned spat, that turns into the full blown argument, that pretty much goes on for the rest of the film. When this happened, the charm, that made the first two films so special, started to evaporate, and before I knew it, I was no longer watching an idiosyncratic romance, I was watching a middle-age couple fight.

It certainly didn’t kill the film for me, not even close, and it felt utterly real and organic, but it did put a damper on things and made the film somewhat less enjoyable than the ones that came before, particularly the excellent second film. Still, Linklater managed to keep the argument engaging, and give it the feeling that the relationship was in jeopardy, without making it melodramatic, which is commendable. Also, seeing Celine and Jesse at this low point did make me root for them all the more, so I suppose this turn in the story worked better than I orginally thought. However, my
initial reaction to it was, “Man, what a bummer.”

My issues with the film notwithstanding, Before Midnight is still mostly a wonderful picture and a worthy continuation in the “saga” of Jesse and Celine. For those youthful morons reared on that Twilight garbage, I would love nothing more than to forcibly sit them down and make them watch all three chapters of the “Before Trilogy”, so they can see a cinematic love story that’s intelligent, funny, and insightful. Talky without being static or dull, romantic without being sentimental or sappy, these are truly special films that Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have crafted, and Before Midnight is no exception.