Monday, March 31, 2014



Directed by Neil Burger
Written by Evan Daugherty & Vanessa Taylor

     Yes, sometimes you have to go and watch films you do not have much a desire to see. Although I am not being paid or completely published yet, it is time for me to go see everything. If you are going to be a film journalist or blogger, you must strive to be as objective as possible when it comes to opening weekend. You cannot just go to the movies you want to see, but watch everything: the good, the bad and the ugly. I saw Divergent this past weekend and it was a rough 2 and 1/2 hours. The film is quite bad and has a target audience which is definitely not myself. Also, my wife said we were going and that was that. I have to break out of the mold of only watching what peaks my interest and see the ugly. Well, to a point. I am paying for these tickets.
     Divergent, based off the YA novel that sold, and I am sure still is, like gang busters, is set in a dystopian Chicago. The skyscrapers looked similar, but what happened to Lake Michigan? The world is sheltered by a huge barricade protecting the city from whatever malice is outside of its walls. Although there are farmers outside the walls, but I guess that is OK. They will make it. This dystopic, futuristic world is broken up into five factions: Abnegation, which are selfless, charitable and run the government; Amity, which are the farmers; Candor, which are honest and lawyers; Dauntless, which are the fighters and protectors; and Erudite, which are the scholars and the intelligent ones. There are also the factionless which are basically the homeless. These five factions are what control and keep order in this society. 
    We meet Beatrice Pryor (Shailene Woodley), daughter of Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and Natalie (Ashley Judd), and brother of Caleb (Ansel Elgort). There family is of the Abnegation faction and Andrew is of some importance with government. Both children are teens and, in this society, must take an aptitude test to determine what faction they are going to be apart of. This feels important, but if you do not like what faction you score into, you can still choose whichever one you like. Beatrice takes the test, but something is awry. She has elements of all the factions and is very skilled, as proven in this goofy, hallucinatory exam. It is quite stupid in my opinion. This is bad. She is a Divergent and this society finds them to be of the highest threat to peace and an ironic sense of equality. Instead of cherishing, nurturing and educating the society on these special individuals, they are basically delinquents and are killed off. Good luck!
     Beatrice is told to keep her mouth shut and choose whichever faction she wants to be with. She chooses Dauntless, much to the demise of her parents, and must pass a series of tests to be welcomed into this faction. This group jumps from running trains onto rooftops and trains. A jolly bunch. They train for preparation of an attack from outside the walls. They also, oddly and annoyingly, seem to sing and dance and hop around. Then, for what seems like well over an hour and a half, we see Beatrice, who changes her name to Tris, train and train and train. She fights her way up the point system so she can be accepted as a Dauntless. I know this film has a target audience of youthful teenagers, especially young woman, but this film is sloppy and terribly conceived. Ten minutes into it and I knew I was in for a long, boring ride. Again, I am not the target audience.
    She is trained by the mysterious Four (Theo James) and the relentless Eric (Jai Courtney). Four is tough, but you can see the blossoming attraction and romance from a mile away. To contrast this relationship, you have the hard ass Eric, who basically is just an annoying human being on the screen. I cringed every time Courtney popped up because the acting, and mainly the writing, was so horrible. They obviously were not going for anything substantial here. Paychecks and to cash in on this "YA" market similar to the likes of the Twilight and The Hunger Games films. All I kept asking myself was 'are they even trying here?' 
     The film trudges along and there is a serious threat from the Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet). She has ulterior motives and wants to take over the Abnegation faction and rule the society as the governing body. Yes, a clash between Tris, the frightening divergent, and Jeanine is in the books. Remember, these divergents are bad and must be stopped. They do not have any superpowers, but could possibly have the ability to do something horrible cause they do not fit into one of the five factions. 
    I will give the film a little bit of positivity in that it attempts to promote young people, especially young woman, to be strong, yourself and not be categorized or placed into a certain program or way of being and thinking. You must be yourself and fight for that right. It also as a female heroine and we do not have enough of those in the male dominated Hollywood. I love that, but can it be in a quality, well-written film. The writing is so bad in this film that even one of the best actresses in the world, Kate Winslet, feels strange and off. Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor wrote an absolutely horrible screenplay. How long do we have to see Tris train and battle the odds? Give her some character. Give her some deep thought and mental challenges. Woodley is decent in the film, but nowhere near how good she was in Alexander Payne's The Descendants. I began to wonder if this was the same actress. I have already mentioned how awful Courtney is, but it honestly as to be the script more than anything else.
     Burger, who directed the very good The Illusionist, must have gotten a good paycheck, because he is complicit, boring, uneventful and adds nothing to this terrible film. I wish I could say the acting was good, but nobody stood out. With those lines though, how could you. I can only imagine the book, written by Veronica Roth, is more in depth and explains some back story and history, but the film does not at all. It would have been nice to know why the society is they way it is and how it occurred. Why are there factions and who created this system? How is someone to be a divergent and why? I am sure since the target audience probably has read the book knows, but what about the rest of us. Bad movie all around.
     Divergent is just an awful film. There is nothing I found enjoyable or suspenseful or well-made. This is a flat out bomb, but these films are hot right now and are going to sell tickets. I do not care what kind of film it is or what it is about, I want to see some quality in the writing, directing, production and acting. Too much CGI and sappy romance, but not enough story and character. I am sure the audience who is obsessed with the book will enjoy it, but for film lovers, this is as bad as it gets and shows the steady demise of Hollywood cinema. 

Photo credit by

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Cheap Thrills

Directed by E.L. Katz
Written by David Chirchirillo & Trent Haaga

    If you are looking for a dirty, twisted, disgusting little dark comedy, than go out and see E.L. Katz's Cheap Thrills. This film is not for the weak at heart, or stomach. Pushing desperate individuals to the breaking point and beyond, while having something to say about the nature of greed and choice. The film is what it is. It makes you feel dirty watching it and sometimes you will laugh, and wonder if you should be laughing. There is a lot of mental and physical suffering throughout. Cheap Thrills is a decent film and I came away liking it, but even through all the reluctant laughs, it is a difficult and disgusting film to sit through. It pushes and challenges the audience that is for sure.
     Cheap Thrills begins with the down-on-his-luck Craig (Pat Healy). He is married, with a fifteen month-old baby at home. He is facing eviction from their apartment and is recently unemployed. He is in the dumps. He goes out for a drink and catches up with an old friend Vince (Ethan Embry), who he has not seen in about five years. They get offered to share some drinks with a married couple, Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), who are out celebrating Violet's birthday. A series of mindless bets ensue, with Colin and Violet throwing money away like it is nothing. A shot, a slap, a punch. Nothing is off base, and that is just the mildness of what goes on in this film. 
     I mean, if you were in this situation would you do whatever it takes to get some fast cash to support your family. You have just lost your job and are facing the terrifying prospect of not having a roof over your head with a little baby to take care of. Craig is so reluctant throughout, but knows this is one of those once in a lifetime moments where he can make some fast money. So, would you do it? Would you put all, or any, of your morals on the back burner to please these two sociopaths and make some fast money. Yes, Violet and Colin are definitely bonkers, but maintain a level of calmness throughout. This film really asks these questions that would be horrifying to be faced with in these situations. It is scary as hell. 
     Eventually, Craig and Vince end up at the exceptional home of the married couple. Elevated madness begins and it is non-stop until the end of this film. It gets diabolical, gruesome and thoroughly intense. You are cringing and laughing at some of the more disgusting shit I have seen on screen in a while. I do not want to give any of it away because it is a lot more exciting going into a film like this not knowing some of the antics that will occur. But, because of the level of debauchery and how I regretted laughing at some of the disgust that ensues, he does diminish the appreciation of the film. That is not say it is bad, cause it most certainly is not, but it kind of makes me think it was "how disgusting can we be," regardless whether it means anything. Maybe it does not have to, but it is rather gross what these people request and do. The depths people will go to when pressured.
     Katz really dives in to the degradation of greed and what propels a rather innocent man to do disgusting things for wealth. The question is still how far would you go. Anyone with respect and love would do whatever it takes to support their family. Craig has failed at work and his family is struggling financially. He eventually starts to see the green he begins winning and does not know when to stop. Trust me, he has an arch at the end of the film that is pretty badass. Also, the fact you have these two wealthy individuals just throwing money away in the most disgusting ways for their pure enjoyment is rather horrible. What the hell? There is something seriously messed up with these two, but we never get any back story at all. Crazy world and a crazy night.
     For the all the mainly disturbing faults, this film has a great look to it and is edited together quite nicely. There is never a dull moment that is for sure. The script is sharp from David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga. The acting is great as well, with all four of the main actors giving great work. Healy is fantastic as the sad sack Craig who finds courage in the oddest of situations. Healy is really great here and goes through one hell of an emotional roller coaster. Embry also delivers a really layered, wonderful performance as the somewhat sleazy Vince. Maybe the best work he has ever delivered. Balls out and full of energy. Paxton is good too, but does not say much. A lot of photos and mellowed words. Koechner is of course brilliant. Goofy, but solid. I just wish we would have known a little more about him, but the focus of him being rich with three houses in Los Angeles and just wanting to show Violet a good time was enough. 
     Cheap Thrills is one devilish, crazy comedy. It is definitely a challenge to the audience and it felt like an endurance test, but full of selfish enjoyment. This is a crazy film and one that forcefully places its characters in hardcore, gruesome situations. It is not perfect, but that is some of what works. I have to say that the banality of what transpires lessens some of the impact just because it is so disgusting. It still works and something worth checking out. 

Photo credit by IMDB.

Friday, March 28, 2014


Open Windows

Directed & Written 
Nacho Vigalondo

     In a technology driven world, Open Windows, directed by cult-Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial), should be a film that completely works with its use of multiple computer screen shots, smooth editing and a suspenseful screenplay. It does not. This film, which will probably be loved by fanboys, especially those enamored with Elijah Wood, and/or porn stars (Sasha Grey is in it), but it just does not come together in the finale. A film that, for the most part, is something fresh and unlike anything I have seen before, is cut down by a terrible plot twist and an overall ending that is sloppy and completely dull. Vigalondo gets credit for the impressive editing and Wood gives a reliable performance, but that ending was thoroughly disappointing. 
     The film has a minimal kinship with Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Rear Window, but do not compare it to that wonderful, great film. Like with Hitchcock's film, which takes place from the sole point of view of a photographer (James Stewart) in his apartment where he witnesses a murder, but must find a way to solve it while in a wheelchair, Open Windows spends all of its time bouncing and shifting from various computer screens and mainly focuses on Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood). He is an Internet programmer who has won an Internet contest for a date with an actress of the moment Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). He is allowed to eerily follow the actress through her computer from her so-called manager Chord, who really has hacked in to her computers and technology to get Nick to lead him to her. A decent setup that builds with suspense and intrigue. 
     The thing that really works in Open Windows is the multiple turns that occur throughout and the suspense that is brought forth through the performance and story with Elijah Wood's character Nick. The majority of the film takes place from his point of view, but interestingly, it is projected throughout multiple computer, tablet and mobile screens. For the most part, Nick is in his car, driving through the city of Austin, Texas. Suspense, stupidity and car chases ensue. All of this, and this is where I do not want to give too much away, is presented in a decent, well-made thriller. The car chase is particularly well done and all the suspense and thrills led from Nick spying on Jill, while she is being frightened, is exceptional. This is one of those films that is going along well, but then it tries to be too clever and special.
     The biggest problem, and one that completely turns this ok film into junk, is this stupid plot twist in the conclusion. It 100% sucks. I thought it was joke and within the last twenty minutes of this film I wanted to walk out. It was so stupid and not to mention, with the exception of Wood, the acting is awful. You can tell that Grey worked with a class act with Steven Soderbergh in the good film The Girlfriend Experience, because she exhibits absolutely no talent in this film. She is terrible. And the direction this film went in at the end is so sloppy and awfully constructed. This is not a neo-Hitchcockian film! That is disrespectful. This is a thriller that loosely mirrored the plot of Rear Window, but is nowhere near the quality of that film. It is not even in the same universe. This is the prime example of a film that somewhat works through the first two-thirds of it, and then ruins everything with a terrible third act and some dismissive, horrible acting. 
     I will give some credit to Elijah Wood. Since his massive success with The Lord of the Rings films, he has placed a niche within the horror-thriller film world. Maniac, Cooties and Grand Piano have propelled him into a even more cult-like status, and I am sure Open Windows will add to that notion. I respect the fact that he seems to be doing the films he loves and is interested in making. He did an excellent job in this film, but the film just did not deliver in the end. The fanboys will love this, regardless of their indifference to quality filmmaking. Wood is in it and Vigalondo directed it, so they are required to like it. Be objective and realize when a film works and it does not. 
     I will also give some credit to the editing from Bernat Vilaplana. The film is formatted as one long take, taking place on what seems like a gigantic computer screen. There are little transitions. The camera moves up-and-down, side-to-side, from one event to the next. It is really unlike anything I have ever seen before. It can go from Nick driving, feeling afraid, to Jill being terrified by someone in her house, within the same frame. You have to see it to believe it. That sounds stupid, but it is true. It is quite impressive and the technology heavily influences the entire film. However, it does not do anything for the overall story and definitely the dismal ending.
     Open Windows could have been better if more thought would have gone in to the final act. I thought Elijah Wood was good in this role, but everyone else was unacceptable. The film is not, and should not, be considered in the same realm as Hitchcock's Rear Window. All this talk about this being something more should stop. Get over your love of Vigalondo and Wood, and rate this film with honest merit and consideration. Shit, maybe it just did not work for me and did for others. Sorry, this was a serious disappointment, but I was not expecting anything too special.

Photo credit by IMDB.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014



Directed by Patrick Brice
Written by Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass

     Found footage horror films have run their course, at least with me. The success of the Paranormal Activity films from producer Jason Blum are still raking in the dough and the trend does not seem to be slowing down. I am tired of the grainy, creepy scenery and cheap, to terrible acting. The V/H/S films I enjoyed because of the different shorts, but the more I think about it, that handheld footage is just annoying. I like film. These simple stories of creaking doors and unearthly apparitions are just becoming boring. Blum has produced a new film tittled Creep from director/co-writer/co-star Patrick Brice and co-writer/co-star Mark Duplass, and even though this is a little bit different and has some devilishly good acting and comedy, it is still has that annoying handheld, found footage film aesthetic and enough is enough. I know the handheld camera work goes along with story and at least it is grounded in realism instead of ghosts and spirits, but it really does not do much for me anymore. The trend is getting old. 
     Aaron (Patrick Brice), a videographer and in need of some work, answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day job. Josef (Mark Duplass) wants the videographer to film him for an entire day. This turns into something more than just an easy gig for a swift $1000. Aaron goes to a remote town and we are introduced to Josef, who is an eccentric and a prankster. They begin filming in uncomfortable situations: in the tub, on a long exhausting hike, at a pancake house and over a late night drink at in Josef's empty house. All these situations are very disturbing, but somewhat humorous in that creepy way. Aaron realizes that Josef is extremely unbalanced and after spending the entire day with him, Aaron is desperate to get out of there. This is only the beginning of what is to become. An eerie dive into the creepy psychosis of an unstable creep.
     The thing that works well in Creep is that it is not delivered as a straight-on horror or thriller film. The comedy given from Duplass and Brice works, and their good working relationship is evident throughout. This part of the film is what I liked. It is not perfect, but the comedy mixed with the unsettling scenes of fear and anxiety, made it something worth watching. Duplass and Brice are the only actors in the film. The acting from Duplass, who is always great, is perfect. He is so crazy in this film and always brings that element of "creepiness" and comedy. The components of a battled, dysfunctional psychosis that exists with Josef is quite well written and delivered. It is nothing too deep, but works with the wonderful performance from Duplass. He slowly dives into the dementia of what initially appears to be a sane man, but is definitely not. Brice, who does a fine job in front of camera and behind it, also is funny as hell. The scenes where he is sent multiple packages from Josef to his home is fine work, and extremely eerie and hilarious. 
     The biggest problem I have with this film is that shaky, annoying handheld, found footage camera work. Enough already. I know the films whole premise is based on a videographer. So, his camera work and that point of view is what the film is going to use, but I am just tired enough. I am turned off by it. I find it distracting, lacking in creativity and flat-out boring. I like the way film and digital look. The textures and lighting. The grainy look is old already to me. I also had a problem with the ending. Not so much how it ended but the fact that someone should have been more cautious and aware of his surroundings. I will not give anything away, but come on.
     If Blum and Brice can sell this film as a thriller-comedy I think it will find a decent audience. I am sure it will be sold as a straight on found footage horror film and that might sell more tickets, but the audience will either be disappointed or surprised by what they get. All-in-all, Creep is just another average film in this over bloated genre. I did like the acting very much and the comedy, mixed in with the thrills worked well, but I cannot, and will not, get over the distraction of the shaky, terrible handheld camera usage. Enough already. I recommend watching this film simply for the performances from both actors, but especially Duplass. He is great in this film.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014



Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan

     The creative process is a difficult challenge even for the most talented of artists, but selling out for the sake of popularity and greed is the highest contradiction to the purity and joy of being truly groundbreaking. Add mental illness into the growth and creative prowess and it even exemplifies the strength, honesty and impressiveness of true artistry. Now, have that main creative genius wear, hide, behind a very large paper mache head with enormous eyes and a blank, expressionless face, and you  have a film that is rich in the debate over creativity versus popularity, and the struggles faced with mental disability. This is a layered and quite witty, hilarious off beat black comedy. That is Lenny Abrahamson's Frank. A not-so perfect film, that has a few bumps in the road, but one that is full of deeper meanings and brilliantly funny moments.
     Frank starts out hilariously, based on an avant garde band that is led by a uniquely talented, faked headed lead singer named Frank (Michael Fassbender). Throughout the first act it really works, dives into a bit of a hole through most of the second, but comes back with a satisfying conclusion. The real brilliance and beauty in the film is shown in two themes. First, being the struggle for creative freedom and purity, and the interference of a new member to the band that wants to help the band succeed on the popular front. This is focused on "making it big" instead of making music that is different, challenging and something new and unique. Second, the personal dilemma and tribulations of coping with mental illness, and trying to be creative and special.
     Frank begins with the social media obsessed, untalented and shy Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who just happens to be in the right spot at the right time. The band "Soronprfbs" have just lost their keyboardist, who attempts suicide. Jon, sitting on a bench watching this event occur, begins a conversation with the bands down-and-out manager Don (Scoot McNairy). After a weak interview, he lands the job of being the bands new keyboardist, but at the heavy reluctance of all the band members, with the exception of the mysterious lead singer Frank. Frank never takes his mask off. It is his safe zone and keeps him leveled. This is a unique situation for Jon and one that the young man does not have the talent to handle, but he wants to express himself musically.
     The band is getting ready to record an album, and when Jon believes he is going away to help the band for one weekend, he ends up going to a reclusive location in Ireland to record for over a year. Frank is a somewhat mythical creature to all in the band. Extremely funny situations ensue and the band hangs on every word their enigmatic lead singer delivers. They are highly reluctant of his kindness and admiration towards the truly average Jon, but it shows his friendliness and naiveté. The theremin playing Clara (an awesomely dark Maggie Gyllenhaal) is highly unhappy with Jon's involvement and she sees his willingness to sell out. While the band attempts to create something fresh, new and innovative, Jon begins to post on You Tube recordings and videos of the band practicing and creating music. Unbeknownst to the rest of the band, the "Soronprfbs" begin to have a cult-like following, which is not what they want, with the exception of Jon. He eventually talks them into traveling to Austin, Texas for the SXSW Music Fest and the band begins to fall apart.
     The trip to Austin really is the downfall of the film. It begins to feel forced and unnatural, and that might of been the purpose of director Lenny Abrahamson and writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, but it did not completely work for me. This whole part of the story in Austin felt very unusual and mixed, but the film really shines everywhere else. The banter and situational dark humor between Jon and the rest of the band is spot on. The enigma that is Frank is something magical and stunning. An innovative man, who is stuck within his head, inside of a larger fake head that allows him to act with some normality, is quite quirky and fascinating. He suffers from a mental disability, but the struggle of the band coming into some social media prominence breaks him, dishearteningly, out of his shell, a little bit. It is also brilliant how the untalented Jon tries to sell this unique group of misfits to the larger public and it blows up in his, and their faces. He brings down a band and it really speaks to how true artistry can not be forced, on the person, group or public. It should come out naturally and without hindrance.
     The writing is witty, hilarious and great, with the exception of the unfocused trip to Austin. The film is loosely based on real-life cult comedian-musician Christopher Mark Sievey, who's persona Frank Sidebottom, wore a massive fake head. The ending is quite touching and the amazing work from Fassbender continues to show what a wonderfully talented actor, and singer, he is. Fassbender is underneath that large head throughout the majority of the film and delivers an absolutely brilliant, nuanced performance. He is simply fantastic and gives so much humor, heart and a thorough dynamic to Frank. Gleeson also gives a wonderful, self-effacing performance as Jon. He fully comes to understanding the shy attempt at making the band popular as led to its downfall and the reality of his abilities. It comes through brilliantly for all in the final scene.
     Frank is a film that grew on me after my initial viewing. I really enjoyed the film, but felt that Austin trip was flat and somewhat boring. The more I chewed on it the more respected it . It is quite funny, nuanced and fully layered, with its focus mental illness and the creative spirit. Frank has some wonderful performances from everyone, especially the immensely dynamic Michael Fassbender. To bring that much life, hurt and depth through wearing a mask all the time is astonishing.The humor flows naturally and really adds an intelligent depth to this black comedy. I enjoy a good comedy that has a lot more than just cheap laughs. Frank is not a home run, but it is a film that is quite pleasing and enjoyable.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Film Trailers: GODZILLA (2014)

     This film, along with Guardians of the Galaxy, are the only two summer blockbusters I am mildly intrigued in seeing. The trailer looks good and I liked Gareth Edwards Monsters (2010), so I will give it a shot. I am not expected to be blown away or anything, but it could be something a little more than your standard, CGI, popcorn extravaganza. It also stars Bryan Cranston, so that is a good thing as well. It will not be as good as the original, but how could it be. The film also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe and Juliette Binoche. Godzilla will be released on May 16th.

Photo credit by IMDB and trailer by YouTube.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Criterion Collection releases for June 2014

     Earlier this week, the Criterion Collection announced their June releases. We get some Beatles, an iconic Peter Weir mystery, and the beautiful malaise of Michelangelo Antonioni. First off, the film that helped elevate The Beatles to even higher status, Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (1964), captured the astonishing impact they had on popular music and culture. The boys played somewhat slapstick versions of themselves and the film contains the massive hits "Cant' Buy Me Love" and "I Should've Known Better." The film, which I have not seen, also had a huge influence on the future of music videos and musicals in general. The film will be released in dual-format, and DVD alone editions, on June 24th.
     In my opinion, the biggest release of the month is the highly anticipated re-release of Peter Weir's suspenseful mystery Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). The film that put, not only Weir on the map, but Australian cinema in general, is an unbelievable, amazing piece of cinema that focuses on the disappearance of a group of college students from an all-girl school. This film is one of the best horror-suspense films that came out of the 70s. The film has been hinted at for years, and now we get a dual-format release and an absolutely gorgeous new cover. This is just one of those films that is flat-out brilliant. Picnic at Hanging Rock will be released on June 17th.
     Another film I am really looking forward to picking up is the blu-ray upgrade of Michelangelo Antonioni's  L'eclisse (1962). The concluding film in  Antonioni's three film series, including the masterpieces L'avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961), about contemporary relationships and the malaise that resides in life. These films, and all of Antonioni's films, are slow, beautiful, thought provoking pieces of intelligent cinema. This is some of the finest filmmaking, not just out of Italy, but throughout the world. It also stars maybe the most beautiful actress ever in cinema, Monica Vitti, as she leaves one lover and goes for another. The film also stars the great Alain Delon as the other man. There is no one like Antonioni and he is seriously one of my favorite filmmakers. The films are so brilliantly crafted and true pieces of arthouse cinema. The film will be released on June 10th in dual-format.
     Another fairly big release, but a film I have yet to see, is Douglas Sirk's lavish melodrama All That Heaven Allows (1955). I have seen Rainer Werner Fassbender's homage/remake Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), which is great, but never the original from Sirk. Starring Rock Hudson, who plays a young gardener, who starts a relationship with an elderly widow played by Jane Wyman. The film addresses American morals in a rather conservative society in the 50s and is one of the hallmark melodramas in American cinema. The color palette has always been talked about as absolutely breathtaking and having seen Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), I know the sentiment. The film will be released in dual-format on June 10th.
     One of the most important documentaries in the history of film gets an upgrade in Peter Davis's landmark film Hearts and Minds (1974). A film that confronts the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. The film is an unflinching indictment and, embarrassingly, I have yet to see it. I have read about it for years and know it is a hard sit, but an informative and educational one. An emotional film for sure. The film will be released in dual-format on June 17th and contains extra footage that was not initially released on the original Criterion DVD. It also carries a striking, powerful new cover. I absolutely love this cover and think it was one of Criterion's best.
     The last film to be released during the month of June is one I have not seen, or heard of, until now, Georges Franju's crime caper Judex (1963). This is an instant, blind buy for me. I love cool crime films from France and this one looks like it is right up my alley. A film, from reading the description on Criterion's website, is a mixture of cool crime caper, sci-fi and silent cinema homages, Judex appears to be one of those classic thrillers that is too good to pass up. Franju did direct one of the eeriest films in history with Eyes Without A Face (1960) so that definitely adds to the intrigue. The film will be released in dual-format, and DVD alone editions, on June 17th.
     And that is it. 2 new releases and 4 upgrades. Still waiting on more Cronenberg, probably around October, and the first releases from David Lynch.

Photo credits by The Criterion Collection.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Directed & Written
Wes Anderson

     Wes Anderson's films are unique, quirky, hilarious and always special, but I believe he has created one of his most layered, delightful films with The Grand Budapest Hotel. That is not to say it is better than some of my favorites like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, but it is right up there with those great films and has shown that Anderson is always evolving, while maintaining his detail-oriented style and textures. A return to harder language and venturing into a comedy-crime caper really shows an expansion of his talents and a serious appreciation for classic cinema. There are notes of early British Hitchcock, comedy that reminded me of Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx brothers, Pierre Etaix and Jacques Tati, and the comedy-drama stylings and storytelling of Ernst Lubitsch. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a perfect Anderson film and will definitely be one of the best of this year.
    I have no objections in admitting I am a huge Wes Anderson fan. His films are anally designed, quirky as hell, has mise-en-scène that is centered and smooth, and dialogue that is full of irony, humor and intelligence. I love all of his films, but this one, and Moonrise Kingdom, have shown me that he is constantly evolving as a writer and filmmaker. That he is probably never going to go away from that desire for obsessive details and ironic quirk that fills his writing, but it is expanding his horizons and abilities. The Grand Budapest Hotel has all the trappings and qualities of being a "Wes Anderson-y film," but expresses a respect for a society, culture and way of life that is long gone. A changing continent and world. A type of life and living that does not exist anymore, but feels so right in the hands of Wes Anderson.
     The film, which is inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, takes place within a series of flashbacks. First, with the older author (Tom Wilkinson) of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and then to the author (Jude Law) in his younger days. The latter is at the dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel, where he meets the owner, Mr. Moustafa (the great F. Murray Abraham). The hotel has seen better days, but Moustafa begins to tell his story and the glory days of this once special establishment. We are sent back to the early 1930s, in the imaginary Eastern European country of Zubrowka, which is set in the Alps and could easily be compared to Hungary or Romania. Here is where we meet the titular, charming head concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and the story begins. 
     Everything up to this point is straight up typical, excessively detailed Anderson. The framing, sets, clothing are all perfect and you know you are in an Anderson film. What begins to set it apart, much like with Bill Murray in Rushmore and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, is the delightful, amazing work of Fiennes. It is written so beautifully, with charming wit and plenty of F-bombs. Yes, thank you for getting back into R-rated territory Mr. Anderson. The dialogue is so precise, intelligent and fast paced. Fiennes really delivers the goods here and sets this film apart from some of Anderson's previous work. The charm and love that was present in Moonrise Kingdom is mostly gone, and we have a delightful, but vulgar concierge who sleeps with his older patrons and has a flare for the finer things in life. He holds himself, and the hotel, in the highest esteem and expects that from all who work there, especially his new lobby boy Zero Mosutafa (Tony Revolori). Their relationship and friendship is the real heart and backbone of the film.
     The relationship between Gustave and Zero harkens back to the friendship between Max and Herman in Rushmore. Gustave takes Zero under his wing and teaches him the highest detail and order of conducting business at the hotel. It is a relationship that grows so genuinely and really continues one of Anderson's main themes of odd, important friendships between the most unlikeliest of people. Revolori really is a breakthrough here, delivering sweetness and surprise with his new found requirements. The chemistry between Fiennes and Revolori is fantastic throughout the whole film and they feed off each other like they have worked together before.
     The plot gets going with the death of the wealthy Madame D. (a heavily aged Tilda Swinton). She has entrusted most of her will to Gustave, at the disapproval of her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody), and also wants Gustave to have the precious Renaissance painting "Boy with Apple." Gustave takes the painting and is charged with theft and murder. Gustave, who is trying to retain the essence and respect of refinement, and holding on to the good stuff in life against the impending war, is captured and sentenced to jail. He eventually breaks out with the help of inmates and Zero. This film is non-stop once we get into Gustave's world. Full of laughs and an ever-searching quality for holding on to this refined period in time and history. It is a crime caper of the highest order and one that really expresses the appreciation and wealth of Anderson's respect for classic cinema.
     One thing I really admired was the varying aspect ratios. 2:85, 1:87 and 1:37 are all presented here and thankfully Anderson did this. I loved seeing the 1930s part, which is the majority of the film, presented in the classic cinema ratio of 1:37. It looked glorious. The framing from longtime cinematographer Robert Yeoman, production design from Adam Stockhausen and a delightful, playful score from Alexandre Desplat really added to the multiple textures and layers that The Grand Budapest Hotel has going for it. It was a great film just for all of those reasons.
     Anderson wrote a wonderful script and brought aspects of the changing European continent with the impending wars of the early 1900s. He may have changed some names and switched the swastika for a "ZZ" symbol, but it holds all the same. The film really delves into a changing world and a world that is long gone. It also holds true that there is good out there and sometimes you find it as you go. That is to say it comes from the most unlikely of places and people. This is Anderson's most polished, layered film to date and it really shows an evolution in his growth as a filmmaker. No more quirks and jaguar sharks for design sake. Although I like that too. No more style over substance. The substance is strong, funny and brilliantly put together. There is also an excellent prison escape scene and flourishes of the great Ernst Lubitsch are present throughout the narrative.
     Like I said before, Fiennes is outstanding. He completely owns this role and gives one rousing, charming, hilarious performance. I cannot imagine anyone else playing Gustave H. with such charm and a funny tawdriness. This is award-worthy territory here, much like the great performance from Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums. I hope we get to see Fiennes and Anderson work together again real soon. 
     If you are going into this film hoping to see many of the actors that have worked with Anderson for numerous, or just the second time, in the majority of the film, be prepared to be disappointed. It really focuses on Fiennes, Revolori, Abraham and Saoirse Ronan, who plays Agatha, the love interest of Zero. The Anderson regulars: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Larry Pine, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Bob Balaban, along with newcomers Mathieu Almaric, Tom Wilkinson, Jude Law and Léa Seydoux, only appear in mere cameos. Some may have a few more scenes than others, but it is not a lot. The whole family is together and they are all outstanding though. Abraham and Revolori are amazing and I loved the performances from Ketiel, Dafoe, Almaric, Swinton and Goldblum. Shit, they are all great. 
     Wes Anderson just keeps getting better and better. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his greatest achievements and shows a real growth in his writing and directing. It is definitely a "Wes Anderson film," but with a little more substance over style. Ralph Fiennes is phenomenal and delivers one of the best performances in his already decorated career. I cannot praise this film enough and really am excited to revisit this one as soon as possible.

Photo credit by IMDB.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014



Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by Gary Hawkins

     David Gordon Green has definitely gone back to his indie and narrative driven roots with his two most recent films. Prince Avalanche was an interesting, if not over done buddy comedy, and Joe, which just had its American premiere at SXSW, is a dark, moody, character driven piece, but nothing that knocked me over. The film is depressing, intensely violent and depicts, as with many of Green's work, lower and working-class Southern individuals struggling to get by from a numerous amount of vices and addictions. Joe has some beautiful cinematography, but really moves at a snails pace. Similar to Jeff Nichols Mud, but it does not carry the moral structure and narrative strength that that film does. If the narrative is a little redundant and unfocused, the tone and acting, especially with a wonderful return to form from Nicolas Cage, keep Joe a somewhat decent film. 
     Joe, based on a novel from Larry Brown, is basically about brute masculinity, redemption and the struggles of poor financial family life, with a heavy dose of addiction and violence. Fighting dark urges and caving into addictions. Tye Sheridan plays Gary, a 15-year old, who desperately tries to find work so he can provide for his mother and sister. His father Wade (Gary Poulter) is a violent alcoholic, who is more worried about where he is going to get the next drink instead of keeping food on the table. Gary finds work with Joe (Nicolas Cage), who is a lumber foreman and an ex-convict. Gary is allowed to work for Joe and his all black crew, who keep young Gary in check. He is a hard worker and needs this job. No school or education. Poverty has riddled Gary's life and his family. His abusive, addict of a father is a despicable, disgraceful human being and has done little to nothing to support them. Wade is a terrible person and even worse father.
     The film focuses more on mood and tone, then narrative clarity or structure. It is one of the major downfalls of this film, and one that I see throughout many of Green's work. I felt hatred for Wade and fear for Gary, but as a whole, the story just never jelled. Never came across with that narrative punch that it needed. I loved Undertow, and this film reminds of it, but just did not carry any impact at all. Another Southern based film about poor white trash and ex-cons trying to find redemption. Joe, who at first is reluctant to become involved with Gary's personal life, does once he realizes his father is a lowlife, piece of shit and beats him. Joe is fighting his own demons, whether it be alcohol or violence. Once Joe decides to intervene in Gary's life, he goes down a dark road that will hopefully cleanse him or at least lead him to some sort of personal redemption. Joe befriends Gary, but is more like the father Gary does not have. I mean, how much of a jerk do you have to be to hit your own son when he puts you in your drunken, idiotic place. The opening scene, where Wade beats Gary, sets the tone of depression, violence and unnecessary, but intense masculinity. This is an extremely dark film.
     I felt the best thing Green did with Joe, besides getting some wonderful acting from his main star and the local talent from Austin, Texas where the majority of the shoot took place, was setting mood and tone. There is never a moment where you are not soaked into this dingy, uncomfortable world of booze-addled country folk and the lives of impoverished Southern people. A world seeped in sappy pine trees, empty liquor bottles, fighting dogs and agonizing emptiness. This is definitely a Southern gothic and Green sets the film beautifully with great work from cinematographer Tim Orr and a brooding score from David Wingo. It is just that screenplay that is a little too flat and lacking in structure. Sometimes I watch a Green film and feel I am watching multiple movies in one that do not always go, or blend, together. One talented director, but I have never really connected to his work like many others have.
     The acting is fantastic though. Nicolas Cage is really special in Joe. A little portly and with tattoos, Cage gives Joe such depth and history. He feels like a man on the mends, but not fully succeeding in getting his life back on track. One that is fighting numerous personal issues, but still finding some joy out of life. Either with his respect for the crew he works with or the simple conversation with the gas station-grocery store owner, he is trying. Cage just delivers on all levels. I love seeing Cage act his ass off, and not overact or be flat-out silly. This is Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation territory here and I wish we got to see more of this from Cage.
     The rest of the cast is great as well and I feel Tye Sheridan can play a poor Southern kid in his sleep. The role is similar to his role in Mud, but instead of trying to save a man, he is the one that needs to be saved. Sheridan is perfect, but I am ready to see him in something outside of a Southern accent and small-town dynamic. Green loves using local talent and dived into the Austin acting circles, and streets, for Joe. Gary Poulter, who was a homeless man in Austin when Green cast him as Wade, is phenomenal. An absolute bastard of a man. He played Wade with ruthless ignorance that fully worked. Sadly, Poulter passed away soon after filming was completed. Supporting turns from Adriene Mishler, who played Joe's sometime girlfriend Connie; Ronnie Gene Blevins, who plays a small time thug who has had a violent past with Joe, is great and really disgusting; Aj Wilson McPhaul playing Sheriff Earl, who tries to keep Joe from going back to jail and Johnny Mars plays a local cop who adds a little comedy to the film. 
     Joe is a good piece of mood cinema, but never really delivers throughout. The acting, with a great turn from Nicolas Cage, really carries the film along, but it just falls flat and is dull throughout the majority of the film. Cage is really wonderful here and shows that the talent is still there if given the right role. I did not completely dislike this film. Green has real talent as a director, but the film just needed a more polished, crisp screenplay. Cut the waste and get to the good stuff. It is a hard sit and is extremely violent. I am very mixed on Joe and probably would only watch it again to see the great work from Cage and the rest of the cast. It is quite good in that aspect.

Photo credit by IMDB.

Monday, March 17, 2014



Directed & Written
Richard Linklater

     Richard Linklater's touching, hilarious and epic Boyhood is absolutely brilliant and may be his greatest feat yet. I am serious when I say this might be Mr. Linklater's masterpiece. A film that journeys through the ups and downs of growing up. Focusing on a brother and sister, mainly the boy, and going from age 6 until he goes off to college at 18, the film examines what life is and how it is lived. The difficulties of going through your parents divorce, moving, step-parents and the overall realities of adolescent life. The brilliance is that it never feels forced and revels in those special moments of growing up. Those priceless ones that are so important in learning the rights and wrongs, and figuring out who, and what, kind of person you are going to be. A film that is like none other, and one that Linklater should be so proud of, as should we.
     Linklater, as well-noted, filmed Boyhood over the course of 12 years, filming for a couple of weeks to a month each year. This is a narrative feature, but feels like a documentary, or docudrama. We witness glimpses of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Loerlei Linklater), age through their school years. You settle in with this film, like with most of Linklater's work. There is a lived-in quality that is ripe with truth and humor. Mason and Samantha's parents, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette), are divorced and the film focuses not just on the children dealing with this, but the parents as well. Linklater is one of the top-tier, intelligent filmmakers around, and just understands and has a keen, observant eye on life. This film is a journey through life. A simple kind of thing and what a massive success. An insightful, simple, touching look at life through the eyes of children, especially Mason.
    The film takes place in Texas. Shooting on location in Austin, Houston, San Marcos and Big Bend National Park, to name a few places, this just sucks you right in. Time is not just noted by the obvious aging of the actors, but by the music. Starting with Coldplay and going up to The Black Keys, and beyond, the music also takes you back to growing up yourself. Being in college and in my twenties through this time period, it really stuck with me and added even more to its resonance. Cultural references to the Harry Potter phenomenon, boxy Apple computers, video games and seeing the growth and locales of my current city of Austin, made me feel like I was right there. Especially the shots of San Marcos, where I went to college. It is a respect for how Linklater does not make anything fake or untrue. He shoots his film where they take place and it adds so much purity and realism to the story.
     This is such an affecting film. I could relate to it whole-heartedly, especially when Mason got into his teenage years. The not fitting in with the cool crowd, but making and doing your own thing. Working a job to get by and maybe not getting the car you wanted for your first vehicle. And learning how to date. Always a struggle and challenge, but fun and exciting. It felt so right. It felt so true watching Mason try and figure who he was and where he wanted to go. What is life? Asking these questions brought me back to my own life when I was young and did not know what to do or where to go. Wanting to break away from your parents hold, but understanding they are your foundation and support. Mason is constantly trying to, maybe a little too much, think of what it is to be alive and live. To be in the moment and take chances, but still realize there are responsibilities and a world outside yours. It was so riveting to see this young boy grow up on film. I mean, he really did grow up through this film a little bit. Mason's life was chronicled brilliantly and astutely by Linklater.
     I do not know what it is like to have your parents go through a divorce, but there is a genuine study of Mason, Sr. and Olivia's struggles with each other and in subsequent relationships. The beginning when Olivia moves the children from Austin to Houston and still is going through the recent divorce, is hard on everyone. Then there are her two marriages that fall apart due to alcoholic assholes that do not deserve her drive, love and kindness. Everything started off nice, but delved into horrible, dismal separations. She always had her children though. There is a very touching scene near the end when Mason is getting ready to go off to college. It will get you.
     Ellar Coltrane has that cool, reserved indie look and delivers a stunning performance. A smart, quiet presence, that appears to be wise beyond his years. An absolute stellar, standout performance. He definitely does not feel like an actor, but has the talent. I think that is what works so well. He is just being natural and himself. Nothing forced or unconvincing. Also a nod to Richard Linklater's daughter Lorelei, who plays Samantha. A wonderful performance from her, with much character and liveliness.
     Frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke has delivered exceptional, career best work in the "Before" films, but this is the best work he has ever done. Hawke is excellent has the divorced father. He takes the kids to an Astros game and there is a great scene where he and Mason go camping. He is 100% committed and devoted to his children, even if he is not there all the time. Has he ages, we really witness the fondness and love he has for his children. Life is a journey for us all. He wants them to know he cares and loves them deeply. Hawke also delivers some of the funniest lines in the film and he shows how talented he is. Much can easily be said about Patricia Arquette. A great, down-to-earth performance, that goes through two terrible marriages after her and Mason, Sr.'s divorce. She is so strong and drives herself to become a professor at a university (possibly Texas State). A strong, powerful woman on screen and I loved every second of her performance. The acting from these two is mesmerizing, fascinating work and definitely awards worthy.
     Boyhood was worth every second of its 2 hour and 45 minute running time. A slice of life gem, that seemed so simple and small while watching, but after thinking about it, it so massive, epic and unlike anything I have ever seen. There is an intelligent, beautifully affecting quality to this pure masterpiece from the wonderful, great Richard Linklater. The acting is so amazing. I was turned on and melted into my chair with a smile and appreciation throughout the entirety of this sweet, funny and touching epic piece of cinema. Richard Linklater has delivered a film that should go down as is greatest to date, and that is saying a lot from his filmography. Right up there with Slacker, Dazed and Confused and the Before films. Profound, fascinating, touching, funny and an intelligent masterpiece. An absolutely stunning film from a brilliant filmmaker. The best of 2014 and easily the best at this years SXSW Film Festival.

Photo credit by IMDB.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Only Lovers Left Alive

Directed & Written 
Jim Jarmusch

     Jim Jarmusch's vampire love story Only Lovers Left Alive is everything you would expect from a Jarmusch film and more. A beautifully told, culturally significant, almost anti-vampire film, that might be one of the best vampires film made in years. That is highly contradictory, but the simple fact is, this story is so much more than just a typical tale of vampires and vampire lore. That is not to say the filmmakers do not play with the tradition, but the power of the film lies in the romantic beauty between two different creatures and a culture that has been in decline for decades. Not to mention, it is supremely cool, hip as hell, and contains that expert intelligent wit and humor that only Jim Jarmusch can deliver. A knockout of a film.
     Only Lovers Left Alive focuses on two vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), as centuries old lovers who have drifted in and out of each others lives. Yes, there is significance to the historical, biblical and cultural significance of their names. They may not be the originators, but their relationship, love and being, is of power, originality and unbounded love. A love that can be the ground point and an exemplified foundation for existence in companionship. The love of all love. Adam and Eve are what strong love should be based on. They are not exactly the same or have a lot in common, but they have a deep passion, appreciation and love for each other and the differences that make up the power of their relationship. They do not even live together in the present day.
     Adam is a reluctant, depressed musician in the depleted outskirts of Detroit. Eve lives in Tangier, and is extremely close to an older vampire, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), yes, the one that is supposedly the true author behind Shakespeare, and that supplies here with blood that is not contaminated. Blood that is devilishly good and gives off a euphoric high. It is the present, so this is not like the TV series "True Blood" or modern-day vampire films where the vamps are killing in public constantly. Eve must get her blood like a junkie gets its drugs. Well, a little more sophisticated than that, but you get my drift. As for Adam, who buys exotic, classic instruments from his human or, as he calls them "zombies," friend Ian (Anton Yelchin), stays in hiding. He has money and buys his Type O-Negative blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) at a nearby hospital. The blood, much like Eve's, is pleasurable, and satiates his need. No going out in the night and killing the neighbors wife.
     Adam is fighting off suicidal tendencies due to his depression over the state of human existence and growth. He has asked Ian to have a wooden bullet made for him and he feels the degradation of society and culture has caused a severe lack of positivity for the future. The "zombies" have devolved into nothing and ruined all that is historical and culturally significant. Adam needs Eve to come to him and help him survive. Help fight off this urge. Eve plans a trip, but ensures that she flies always at night. In fact, the whole film takes place during the night and in dim-lighted rooms. The lighting and lensing, by cinematographer Yorick LeSaux, is mesmerizing. The real magic in this film is the chemistry and gorgeous intimacy between Adam and Eve.
     Jarmusch based his film on Mark Twain's "The Diaries of Adam and Eve," which is based in biblical roots, but not saturated with traditions. The most beautiful, and interesting, thing in Only Lovers Left Alive is the connectivity and differences between these two passionate lovers. Eve is a free spirit, cool lover, that appreciates all life has to offer. On the other hand, Adam is more negative, with a resistant spirit that feels that society is lost and all hope for the world is gone. In the film, much as with Twain's collections of short stories, expresses that just because two people are different and maybe do not have it all in common, does not mean they cannot be insane and passionate for one another. Love can be found and consumed in the subtle differences and ways in which we love. We do not have to be the same to fall madly in love. We can accept that love is a crazy ass, unschooled ideal, and when it works, it works. Similar or not in personality and traits. Our lives our are own and we must respect all that is involved if we are to continue an understanding in companionship and love.
     The film takes a turn when the younger sister of Eve, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), the poster child for the ill-informed, misguided youth culture, visits. She is one that does not understand the importance of culture, history or anything past what happened a few minutes ago. In one scene, Adam, Eve, Ava and Ian go to a club and see a rock band. They come home and she attempts to sleep with Ian after Adam and Eve have retired for the night. Once Adam and Eve awake, they see that she has gone wild and destroyed some of Adam's cherished instruments. The scene was powerful and brilliantly constructed by Jarmusch. A firm dissection and commentary on the youth's disrespect for anything not belonging to them and of cultural value. I love it, as well as the car rides Adam took Eve on to show her Detroit. It shows a city still in serious decline and how the beauty the city once possessed is all but gone. Not to mention the numerous references to how the arts, literature, music and paintings, have gone away and are not given the proper respect in today's society. All done with the classic Jarmusch touch of dry, calculated humor and wit.
     The cast in this film is absolutely perfect. Tilda Swinton, as always, is sensational as Eve. An intoxicating beauty amongst the living. She brings a cherished sincerity to life and where vampires are now. Nothing forced, and full of love and compassion, even in the midst of her needs. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic as Adam. Full of a severe depressed attitude and respect for the arts. Hiddleston is seriously funny, especially when saying little to nothing at all. Wait until you see the scenes with Wright. Really funny. Both are hipster vampires that respect culture and understand the changing of times and history. Jarmusch hipsters, so they are not annoying. Hurt is great and Yelchin and Wasikowska give their best performances of their young careers.
     It still comes back to Jim Jarmusch. This film was a collaboration between all involved, especially with Swinton, who he had mentioned the idea to over eight years ago. The film is a personal film and the beauties in love that are not always focused on the similarities, but the acceptance of the differences. The acceptance of each other for who they are and not who they are not. We do not have to be the exact same to fall in love and be in love. Jarmusch's writing is perfect and beyond the strong cultural references, is full of hilarious dialogue. I remember the first time I saw Down by Law and Dead Man, I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face. His humor is smart, and the wit and sarcasm is perfect. Situational, everyday comedy that can keep a smile on your face throughout the entirety of a film, but bust out with serious laughs at times. Jarmusch and his dry, minimalist films that have such depth and importance to the world around us. It is especially significant when you make a film about vampires, and the part of them being vampires is second to the importance of everything else going on. The film is about lovers and culture, revolving around two individuals that just happen to be vampires.
     I also must give much attention to the wonderful music that supports and travels throughout the whole film. Most of the music is by Jarmusch and his band Sqürl. A bluesy, rock-and-roll driven theme that accompanies the channeling minds of vampires in change. Vampires going through changing times and the devolution of society. The music is perfect. Nothing else can be said. Props to composer Jozef van Wissem. Music plays such an important part in Jarmusch's films. Enhancing the film, without stealing from the narrative. Can you imagine Down by Law without Tom Waits or Dead Man without Neil Young? Come on!
     Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is just damn good. I have cherished and loved all of his work, and can honestly say this is one of his best. A film that revolves around romance, but has much deeper power and focus on the society and arts. The title says it all. Only Lovers Left Alive is just that and focuses the profound, deep love between those that appreciate the challenges and growth of thought and art. Also, I do not know how he does it, but the man knows how to be so damn funny at all these moments. The blend of serious characters and hilarious situations is deeply profound and amazing. These are hipster vampires and some of the coolest individuals around. Romantic lovers that fiend for each others love. I admired every second of this film. It is one of his best and something I cannot wait to see again to dive deeper into. A beautifully smart, funny film from the great Jim Jarmusch.

Photo credit by

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Bad Words

Directed by Jason Bateman
Written by Andrew Dodge

     In the world of competitive, youth focused spelling bees, you never would expect a 40 year-old man to be a competitor. That is Bad Words. With a loophole in the rule book, Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) goes all out in this vengeful, black comedy. Extremely foul-mouthed, with subversive, sarcastic humor, Bateman's first directorial effort is  a success, even if just a minor one. That is alright, in that when everything works, and with Bateman's brilliant timing and delivery it does, you have a comedy that is so politically incorrect and dirty. A comedy I enjoy seeing, and love when nothing is off limits and all is on the table. It was a great start to the South by Southwest Film Festival here in Austin, and a comedy that had a little lesson about friendship and family, but firmly focused on revenge and hilarious, inappropriate laughs.
     Guy Tribly, a grown man that did not finish grade school, gets access into the spelling bee as an adult. Revenge is on his mind and he is willing to do whatever it takes to win. A no holds barred, take no prisoners approach. This is a contest where he will do anything, and I mean anything, to win. He has a twisted sense of humor and devilish approach, with deep ulterior motives. Embarrassing little kids, mostly between the ages of 8 and 10, is nothing to him. Trilby is a despicable human being for the most part. No remorse. No kindness. No feelings of charity towards these children. What dark humor ensues.
    Trilby imparts the assistance of a news reporter, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), to research and ensure he can be a competitor and for further reasons. Trilby knows the rules inside-and-out, and knows he cannot me disqualified from the competition for his age, much to the dismay of all of the children's parents. He does not care at all. One of the competitors attempts to befriend him. A young, intelligent boy, Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), with odd issues with his family and his intelligence tends for him to be isolated and odd with the cool crowd at school. The smart kid that is shunned by the dorks and jerks. Once at the main spelling bee competition, which is being telecast live for the first time, he has his own room, when his parents are staying at a different hotel. He, and his parents, know Trilby is his main competition, and they have inquisitive methods of their own in an attempt to hold back Trilby. 
     Bateman has made a wonderful directorial debut. A film that is not for everybody because of the depraved, vulgar humor, that is not politically correct or polite. In an over-obsessed "PC" culture that we live into today, it is refreshing to see a comedy like this, even if it is a guilty pleasure to enjoy it. The man is so disliked in the spelling bee competition by the parents and the children that is hotel room is a mattress on the floor in the custodian closet. No bathroom or shower. Bateman and writer Andrew George have delivered a sinisterly black comedy about competition and revenge, I will not spoil what the revenge part is, but a there is a decent commentary on friendship and family as well. The film can be a little repetitive at times, but the friendship that slowly grows between Trilby and Chopra, as well as the sexual, odd, hilarious relationship between Trilby and Jenny, keep the film flowing when it tends to linger at bit too long on the vulgarity. 
     Bateman is fantastic, both behind the camera and in front of it. The man gets comedy and knows when and how to use it. He can go off on a sarcastic, hilarious tirade, but never once get over emotional. Deadpan to the finest and his delivery is pitch perfect. Ever since his wonderful turn as Michael Bluth in one of the best comedy shows ever "Arrested Development," he rarely misses a step and is great in everything he is in.  Hahn is wonderful as well, and sticks the lines and humor word for word with Bateman. A great combo. I have to give a lot of praise to the ten year-old Rohan Chand. He also hangs perfectly with Bateman and is so sweet and nice, but gets Trilby's subversive humor and matches hi throughout. Trilby never breaks him and it is sweet to see their friendship grow throughout the film. A friend and father figure that Chopra wants, and would like. 
     I really enjoyed Bad Words. It is not a film for everybody, but one that I thought was deeply hilarious and full of great sarcasm and wit, even though there are some highly uncomfortable scenes. Bateman kills it in every frame as a foul-mouthed, ruthless adult and gets wonderful performances out of the whole cast. Bateman's directorial debut is a hardened, politically incorrect comedy that delivers on every note. Bateman has the talent to become a wonderful director and I cannot wait to see what he has up next. I love a good black comedy and wish there were more of them being released and done with vigorous vulgarity and humor like Jason Bateman's Bad Words

Photo credit by IMDB.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Here's to hoping this is as good as the first film... Shit, Robert Rodriguez keeps Jessica Alba employed! Enjoy!

Trailer credit by YouTube.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


     2013 was an absolutely fantastic year for film. There were great films from Hollywood studios (Gravity, The Wolf of Wall Street) to wonderful indies and foreign films (All Is Lost, Blue Is the Warmest Color). Great performances, writing and directing from all over. This was a very hard list to compile and most of the films in my top ten could easily be higher than there ranking, but it is fun to put this list together. My Top 3 just stood out a little bit more than rest. More relevant with social and cultural importance. Most of my "just missed" films could easily have been in the top ten as well. Great year in all and I am really happy the Academy got the best picture correct. Well, almost... No one is like Scorsese, but really happy for 12 Years a Slave. Also, at the end of my Top Ten I have my Best of list. Enjoy!

Just Missed...
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Short Term 12
  • In A World...
  • The World's End
  • Blue Is the Warmest Color
  • Upstream Color
  • Frances Ha
  • Captain Phillips
  • Ain't Them Bodies Saints
  • Fruitvale Station

10.  Prisoners

    An extremely dark, moody, intense thriller from Denis Villeneuve, with exceptional performances from Hugh Jackman and especially Jake Gyllenhaal. The film is one of the best looking films from last year and it is hard not to expect that from the great Roger Deakins. Not the most pleasant films and a long one, but I love dark, suspense thrillers, and this one is very good.

9.  Mud

     I first got to see this film at last year's South by Southwest Festival and it won me over right away. A southern gothic of revenge, lost love, families and friendship. Jeff Nichols best film to-date and another great performance from Matthew McConaughey, but the real treasure is a fierce, touching turn from Tye Sheridan. Nichols is one of the best young filmmakers in the game and I cannot wait to see whats around the corner.

8.  Gravity

     My most anticipated film from last year and it did not disappoint. One of the best blockbusters made in some time with supreme vision and innovation from the great Alfonso Cuarón. Bullock delivers her best performance and Emmanuel Lubezki's visuals are unparalleled. The film is a roller coaster ride and full of nail-biting, suspenseful moments. A great piece of escapist cinema. A dazzling technical achievement.

7.  Nebraska

     We should all be thankful that Alexander Payne is a film director. The best filmmaker at presenting real life, and real people, as honest as possible on film, and does it with humor, wit and a beautiful talent for storytelling. A skilled craftsman and what gorgeous black and white cinematography from Phedon Papamichael. Dern and Squibb are knockouts. 

6.  All Is Lost

     What an amazing, monumental piece of filmmaking. What creativity and greatness from the legend Robert Redford and another fantastic young filmmaker J.C. Chandor. A film with hardly any dialogue and starring one actor, this is an unreal survival tale on the high seas. There is not a dull moment and Redford shows how he is still acting his ass off at such a high level. An important piece of cinema and the better survival film in comparison to Gravity.

5.  Her

    A love story. A sci-fi story. A relationship story. Spike Jonze has crafted on the most innovative, emotional and beautiful stories, encapsulating honesty and realism in what it is like to be in a relationship. Jonze is a genius and understands the sensibilities, sweetness and heartaches of meaningful human connection. What great performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johansson. One beautiful scene after another.

4.  Before Midnight

     The third film in Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's amazing "Before" trilogy, is another knockout from the three. Containing an argument scene that should be studied for decades, Before Midnight is just real and honest about marriage, kids, love and sex. There is not a false note made and these three just get it. As great as Her was at examining relationships, this film is even better. Thank you Linklater, Delpy and Hawke for making these films. I could watch these every 8-10 years and I hope another one is on the way.

3.  Inside Llewyn Davis

     Aw... the Coen brothers. They do not make bad films and when they blend high art and great music, along with their dry, morose sense of humor and irony, it does not get any better. A film about an artist who is always too early or too late, and full poor decision making. The Coen's are brilliant at being honest with their characters and showing a derailed sense of pride and hope. Build it up and slam it down. Bruno Delbonnel's hazy cinematography is the best of the year and fits the 60s Greenwich Village scene perfectly. Oscar Isaac gave an unfiltered, brilliant performance and Carey Mulligan was perfection.

2.  12 Years a Slave

     Steve McQueen directed one of the most honest, brutal and visceral films in years, if not film history. This film is not easy to sit through, but is beautiful in its telling of the unbearable depravity of slavery in America. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o and Micahel Fassbender (along with the whole cast) are flat out amazing in every scene. This is one of the strongest films made in awhile and filmmaking that is mesmerizing on all levels. Sean Bobbitt's phenomenal cinematography adds the visual style that accompanies McQueen's films, but it is the cultural and social importance that is so striking.

1.  The Wolf of Wall Street

     And still the best. Martin Scorsese proves once again why he is not only the best living director in the world, but possibly the greatest filmmaker ever. A film that is so in-your-face and pummels you with degradation, social dishonesty and thunderous irresponsibility. The Wolf of Wall Street is nothing short of brilliance. DiCaprio gives his finest, most well rounded performance of his career and Jonah Hill is unbelievable. This film is one of the most important films, along with 12 Years a Slave, at chronicling and depicting the devaluing of the human condition and examining the lack of respect in our society. Scorsese is the man!


BEST FILM:  The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST DIRECTOR:  Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ACTOR:  Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ACTRESS:  Brie Larson, Short Term 12
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, Before  Midnight
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  tie: Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis & Spike Jonze, Her
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
BEST FILM EDITING:  Thelma Schoonmaker, The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST SCORE:  Alex Ebert, All Is Lost
BEST SONG:  "The Moon Song" Karen O, Her
MOST OVERLOOKED PERFORMANCES:  Brie Larson, Short Term 12; Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha; Adèle Exarchopoulos & Léa Seydoux, Blue Is the Warmest Color; Tye Sheridan, Mud

Photo credits by