Tuesday
Dec172013

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

This is going to be a pretty slipshod review, because I don't know how to describe what happened. I recently saw the movie "Nebraska" in which nothing really happened, some guys drove around and I left being pretty bored about the nothing that didn't happen. In ILD, also nothing really happens, but it was fascinating. It helps that the Coen brothers are masters at script writing, as well as the visual arts.

But instead of being bored, I am actively depressed. Depressed that this guy, while at once behold himself and his nose at a higher atmosphere as the heir apparant to the Guthrie folk throne, while at the same time using that righteousness to sabotage himself at every turn. I'm depressed that the people around should let themselves feel any loss that they aren't a part of his emotional world when that room really has no hook to hang a coat on. I feel bad for kitty cats.

So Llewyn is a dick. A lone folk singer in the heyday of bohemian Greenwich Village. Bemoaning his tales of woe while the Peters, Pauls and Marys of the scene are "grabbing people" with sentimentality and quirk. He couches here and there until the favor wears off. I had never heard of Oscar Isaac, who plays the title character, but he is fairly magnificent. Imagine if Adam Goldberg's mom had given birth to Al Pacino's baby.

But the story is nothing more than him getting bitched at, trying to scrape up some dough, traveling around like the homeless musician that he is. But the people and the kitty cats involved in that non-activity and there's no resolve or redemption to be cared about. That's another thing I'm depressed about. That Llewyn seems uninterested in finding that redemption, content to maintain the cycle of merely surviving.

Saturday
Dec142013

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

D. W. Griffith's silent era flick is almost 100 years old now. At the time, the Civil War had been over for about 50 years. This film starts in the throws of that war, but the bulk of the plot involves the US Reconstruction of the south.

The film is lauded for its technical achievements. Many of what modern filmmakers use as the basic formation of shot compositions and tracking scenes et. al. were established and pioneered in this movie. Including what I'd bet is film's first ever bar fight scene. And that's all fine and academic, but unless you're a film student, you're probably not going to be awed by the wonderment of something filmed in 1914. Especially at three hours long.

So what you'd be watching for is an interesting narrative. Unfortunately that's where Nation gets problematic. While the film was being praised for its grandeur upon it's release, it was at the same time reviled for it's revisionist history, abhorrent racism and the manipulation of using this medium as a means for propaganda.

Because within this reconstruction, black leaders are seen to oppress the white population of a southern town, including suppressing the white voters in an election. One famous scene has a newly empowered black congress holding session in a statehouse as they remove their shoes an rest bare feet on the desks while drinking liquor and eating chicken legs. Later, as whites continue to be harassed, imprisoned and killed, the Ku Klux Klan is shown as heroes. Liberators of the southern whites to maintain justice and their Aryan birthright. It is believed that this film was the catalyst for the new rise of the KKK in the early 20th century.

With such ridiculous hateful plot elements at the helm of the production, it's hard to take the film any other way. Filmmaking achievements aside, it couldn't possibly still stand the test of time for greatness, even if it will for controversy. But, if you're curious, the entire film is on youtube and included below...

Friday
Dec132013

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Writer / director Scott Cooper must have saved Leonardo DiCaprio's life or buried a dead hooker for him or something. Because I can't understand why otherwise Leo would back this movie financially. How did he see the no-more-than-seven-page script and decide to call up seven quality actors to do virtually nothing for two hours.

In short order, here's the plot. Nice dependable guy Russell works at the steel mill where his dad works. He takes care of dad (who is dying) and brother (who is going to Iraq). Location and time are completely irrelevant. He loves his girlfriend and pays his sweet, but careless, brother's debts. One day he gets into an unavoidable car wreck which unfortunately kills a kid, and Russell has unfortunately just had one shot of booze. He goes to jail for a while. Gets out, girlfriend has a new man, brother is back from Iraq with PTSD, dad is dead. Brother makes money on the underground fight circuit and gets killed by meth-dealing mountain rednecks. Russell seeks revenge.

The only part of the plot that this film serves is the revenge story. All of that other shit, which is 3/4 of the movie has nothing to do with the film's resolve. It doesn't matter that Russell went to jail or that he loved his girlfriend or that his dad died from something cancerous that came from the steel mill. At the end of the day, If anything, it shows that Russell has nothing to lose, but the film's resolve is borne of that kind of desperation. He would have taken this route if he was a wealthy family man. Russell simply calls bad guy and says "come to my town and pick up money." Bad guy comes to town and shit goes down.

Like I said, there are seven great actors here and none of them do anything wrong. But the script is hollow. Christian Bale is a stoic, quiet dependable guy. Woody Harrelson is an evil bad guy with a wicked giggle and a lollipop. Casey Affleck is aimless, tough but good-hearted. But it's all tantamount to watching paint dry. Even the film's resolve is slow and calculated and not suspenseful at all. It appears that the full hours exists only to create a deceptive trailer.

Wednesday
Dec112013

Funny People (2009)

At some point, some studio exec could have put his foot down and said, "Yes, Mr. Apatow. We understand that you're the golden 'It' boy right now. But you still need to edit down your 2.5 hour romantic comedy-drama down." Judd takes a whole lot of liberty with this movie, including extensive plot narrative with his real-life wife and children.

Don't get me too wrong. I LOVE Leslie Mann. As an actress and her character both bring me visions of women in my own life and I can swoon to th high heavens whenever she's on screen. And the film mostly works, even with these indulgences. But cuts could surely have been made.

Adam Sandler plays George, a movie star-comedian, not unlike himself, known for cutesy unsubstantial broad outrageous comedy. He's just found out that he has a form of leukemia and the prognosis is not good. He takes an assistant by way of Seth Rogan, a struggling upstart comedian. George begins their relationship very sincere. He's alone, family-less and facing his mortality with nothing to show for it. When his treatment seems to work, he begins to actively pursue his first love. A woman who has since married and had two daughters.

The stand-up scenes are fine. But the true comedic moments are the points in between. Ira's banter with his more-successful roommates, especially the excellent douchbaggery of Jason Schwartzman. There's also a great scene aside where George is celebrating his recovery at a restaurant with a lot of cameo celebrities, with an awesomely angry Eminem.

From there the movie runs toward the romantic. And while it's awkward, it's purposefully so. George is enamored and excited to be alive, but he's also selfish and not tuned to intimacy and doesn't understand the family element that his ex has grown into. It's hard to imagine how to finish the film without this angle, but nonetheless, the third act is what needed to be cut down.

Seth Rogan is hard to take sometimes. But his general chuckly goofiness is played down for a more nervous, timid Seth, which is helpful. He may be the weakest link of the movie, but his character is also the weakest link among the remaining characters that he calls friends.

Tuesday
Dec102013

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

An early review that I heard on DBC complained of the clunkiness of getting the story told. I do not disagree that the film's name will be unheard in the list of Oscar nominees for Screenplay or Best Picture, but the acting portrayals carry the film past any of those minor complaints. The only troublesome part in telling this kind of story is to, in some timely manner, portray seven years of activity in a biopic. But let's start with acting.

Matthew McConaughey plays a real-life guy Ron Woodruff. A hard-partying Texan who is diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. Being a hustler at heart, Ron makes his way to Mexico to get the drugs that cannot be secured in the US. Primarily for himself, but also to smuggle back to the states to make a lot of money. He teams with Rayon, a transvestite prostitute to help connect him to the gay community that is largely going to represent his clientele.

Both McConaughey and Jared Leto as Rayon are physically unrecognizable as we have known them. And I certainly won't suggest that such a transformation equals amazing acting- but it just so happens that each were damn near perfect in their roles. Leto especially, as his character was much more sympathetic and likable, you wish we'd spend more time with Rayon. As the sassy queen, as the muddled drug addict, as the fragile patient, Leto becomes the perfect compliment to Ron.

The character of Ron, while portrayed excellently, is of course far less likable. A homophobic redneck, he exudes the southern charm that we know McConaughey for, but the portrayal is a bit scuzzier, as it should be. There's no real hero in Ron for the bulk of the film. Even though the audience sees the actions he takes as heroic, Ron remains a bigoted pragmatist throughout. He just filling a market need. A telling scene is a gay AIDS patient taking Ron's meds in a sale and offering a sincere, "Thank you." As if to say, "You're doing God's work." Ron's response: "Fuck off."

Ron changes in little ways throughout the film which are mostly sincere. Lightens his hateful load. But what was presented was sometimes over the top. And this is a reaction against the script, but I did not need a fake conversation about Rock Hudson or a jack-off scene gone awry with the influence of Marc Bolanto know that Ron's a ignorant redneck. There's plenty of greater realistic scenes that present that fact.

The politics of the film also get complicated. The film spends its time completely shitting on AZT and the FDA and before the credits roll, admit that "a lower dosage of AZT is saving lives." Then, after the credits roll, there's a note (that no one but me and the people who worked on the film will ever see) that alternate treatments should be explored. Why make the statement if it's going to be tagged to the end of the end. Regardless, the film is less about the political fight and more about the personal struggle against the disease. With performances that make it worth the view.