201-203: Sister, Moonrise, Flynn

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201: Your Sister’s Sister

Mark Duplass is on a roll lately. After directing the excellent drama Jeff, Who Lives at Home and starring in Safety Not Guaranteed he also played one of the leads in Your Sister’s Sister, Lynn Shelton’s newest feature. Duplass again creates a very likable guy, Jack, who has some serious issues to deal with. He decides to retreat to a cabin in the woods owned by his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt). What he doesn’t know is that the sister of his friend, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is also there to work out her own problems. Hannah and Jack strike up a relationship that culminates in a situation that is extremely uncomfortable for all involved. Your Sister’s Sister is, however, a sweet drama about recognizing each other’s flaws and forgiving them for it, however selfish their behavior might be. Highly recommended if you want a small drama about real people with real feelings.

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202: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is a very divisive director. Ever since his first feature, Bottle Rocket, people have been debating whether his movies are works of art of just exercises in art direction. Anderson’s movies are often clinical manifestations of a very exacting brain. They present delightful worlds in which the characters are allowed to play to their heart’s content. His newest entry, Moonrise Kingdom, is no different and this time Anderson invented an entire island for his characters to play in. Everything revolves around two kids who run away from home to start a new life elsewhere. This puts the entire island on high alert, which results in funny situations and poignant drama. I liked Moonrise Kingdom a lot, but I also felt that it was really hard to get through the highly polished look of the film. Anderson is always a meticulous filmmaker, but this time he has taken his control of, in particular, camera movements to another level and that made the movie feel very artificial in many places. I didn’t get that feeling at all while watching his, in my opinion, best movies The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited. I still recommend people seeing Moonrise Kingdom, if only for the top-notch performances of the cast.

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203: Being Flynn

Robert De Niro’s career has in the last decade not been what it once was, but you don’t need me to tell you that. So it is nice to see that once in a while he wants to step outside his safety zone and take on a role that takes a little more effort than Meet the Parents or Analyze This. In Being Flynn he plays Jonathan Flynn, a self-proclaimed genius writer, but in reality nothing more than a con man who has neglected his family. The real main character, however, is Nick Flynn (played by Paul Dano), his son, who he has not seen in years. Nick also wants to be a writer, but struggles with the notion that he is not cut out for the job. One day Jonathan reaches out to Nick, which throws Nick for a loop. Does he want his father in his life, or does he want him to leave him alone. This predicament only worsens when Jonathan shows up at the homeless shelter where Nick works sometimes. Being Flynn is a movie about a very dysfunctional relationship between a father and a son with De Niro playing one of the biggest assholes in his career. Being Flynn could have been a very powerful movie, but it lacks the drive to make us connect more with the main character. Dano is fin as Nick, but the problem is that Nick is not somebody you want to root for. You want to give him a swift kick in the butt to get him to pick up his life and stop whining. While the performances are fine all-round, this casts such a large shadow over it all that just can’t be overcome.

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188: Die Hard

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On their most recent episode the guys over at Battleship Pretension were talking with Mike Schmidt about their favorite cops in movies. At least, that’s what they were trying until Tyler revealed he had never seen Lethal Weapon. Understandably the conversation stopped dead in its tracks at that point, because really how can you record a show about movie cops without having seen Martin Riggs in action. But this blog isn’t about Lethal Weapon, it’s about Die Hard, the other brilliant cop movie from the ’80s and one of my favorite movies of all time.

Ultimately the conversation between Tyler, David and Mike went to Die Hard, a movie about an ordinary cop in a very extraordinary situation. I suppose everybody knows the story: John McClane travels to Los Angeles to spent the holidays with his wife and kids, who moved there six months earlier. He arrives at his wife’s workplace, the towering Nakatomi plaza, during the annual Christmas party, but at the same time a group of criminals infiltrates the building to take the building hostage. John manages to stay hidden and he starts to singlehandedly take out the bad guys one by one. Even if you haven’t seen Die Hard (what the heck are you doing with your life if that’s true) you probably have seen one of the numerous copycats that it spawned: Under Siege, Cliffhanger, whatever else. None of these movies, however, come even remotely close to the brilliance of Die Hard.

The brilliance of Die Hard lies in the fact that it employed the everyman hero so effectively it made the movie extremely relatable for audiences. Casting Bruce Willis in the role of John McClane was a stroke of genius. He isn’t some muscle-bound superhero who can punch his way out of a situation without so much as a scratch. This is a guy who isn’t even really that nice to begin with. He is a gruff cantankerous macho asshole who loses his temper all too easily, especially when talking to his wife who just wants to make a better life for her family. Actually, we are not supposed to like John that much at the beginning of the movie. He has to earn our trust and sympathy. He has to show us that he is capable enough to diffuse this extremely volatile situation. It really isn’t until we see Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) shoot Mr. Takagi in cold blood that we see the shock on his face and we know then that he is one of us. He is horrified and runs, he bumbles his escape and nearly gets shot. From that point on we are with him for we know he is a human being. When a few scenes later he has to make his way across a floor full of shards of glass and we get to see the aftermath in which he has to full glass from his foot we feel for him unconditionally and we have forgotten his negative traits, even though he does show his snarky cynical side every so often, but that’s more for comedic purposes.

Coincidentally, during my Harry Potter marathon, I was constantly thinking of Hans Gruber when Alan Rickman appeared on-screen as Snape. Rickman’s Gruber was branded upon my very soul as one of the most awesome villains ever thought up for a movie. His understated demeanor, sophisticated manners and brilliant delivery of some very iconic lines (“Shoot ze glass!”) were so fresh and unexpected. He wasn’t some scumbag who used physical force to get what he wanted. He used his charm and words to get to his prize. Of course, when that didn’t work he didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger, as witnessed when he dispatches Mr. Takagi without so much as thinking about it. Absolutely horrifying to realize that somebody can have such a schizophrenic way of doing things. You just didn’t know what to expect from Gruber after that moment in the conference room.

John McTiernan knew exactly how to make us root for John McClane by letting him improvise his way through the movie. Nothing McClane does goes smooth and without a hitch. He has to do outlandish stuff like dangling from a gun strap in an elevator shaft, throw explosives down another shaft and jump off the roof of a building with a fire hose strapped around his waist to escape a huge explosion. Never do we get the sense that John knows what he is doing. He improvises without knowing if what he is doing is actually going to work. We are right there with him when he jumps off the roof and hope to God that the hose will hold. Die Hard is an incredibly tense movie and unique in its sort. Even the sequels couldn’t recapture the same feeling the first movie bestowed upon us.

Next to being incredibly tense Die Hard is also very funny, but the comedy is never used at the expense of the situation. When McClane has to crawl through an air conditioning duct and he bitches about being there (“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”) it is funny, but we also get his frustration. There are so many moments like this where you have laugh-out-loud moments that are also very uncomfortable, because you are feeling like you are there with John. That makes Die Hard one of the best action thrillers out there. It is thrilling, funny, tense and ultimately totally unforgettable.

128: The Expendables 2

In 2010 Sylvester Stallone unleashed a new concept: the geriatric action movie. Or: take a bunch of washed up action heroes, add some younger guys to push their wheelchairs around and have them shoot at anything that moves. No excuses, no plot, just guns, explosions and fun. The Expendables took in nearly 300 million dollars worldwide, so the inevitable sequel was put into production almost immediately and now we get to ‘enjoy’ another one of these self-congratulatory exercises. Well, here goes…

I was not a fan of the first Expendables. The first two acts were fine, but the movie fell apart completely in the last act when the safeties were removed from the guns. It was a chaotic orgy of nonsensical violence that had nearly nothing to do with what came before. It was as if Stallone, who directed the first installment, was bored with all that pesky storytelling and decided to go all out just for the heck of it. For The Expendables 2 Stallone surrendered the helm of his movie to Simon West, director of Con Air and The Mechanic. I was hoping that West could perhaps add some meaning to what could be a terrific franchise.

Boy, was I wrong. The Expendables 2 doesn’t just continue where the first movie ended, it expands on its stupidity in a way that is just laughable. While The Expendables had some sort of emotional undercurrent that made sense in its alternate universe and sometimes actually felt genuine. The sequel goes for the cheap emotional way out with a contrived tangent in which the youngest member of the crew has found the love of his life in France and now wants out. Of course he is the first one to go (sorry, spoiler), because then Stallone can stand over his grave and say stuff like, “Why do the good ones always go first and the bad ones get to stay alive. What’s the message in that?” (I could have some of these words wrong, because most of the time it is extremely hard to actually understand what Stallone is growling.) It is all so simplistic that it actually hurts the movie. Yes, you heard me right, the writing hurts this movie.

Before you start ragging on me about being too harsh on The Expendables 2 because it is only a piece of mindless entertainment. I would like to add that I would have loved for The Expendables to be mindless entertainment, but it often tries so hard not to be that. West is a director who knows how to film action sequences, those are excellent and nicely over the top. He has no idea however how to frame that action with a story the audience can be invested in. If Stallone had gotten a director who knows how to balance these elements this could have been a much better movie.

Just look at the roster. How can you go wrong with guys like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren (who is surprisingly funny), Terry Crews, Randy Couture and new to the cast are Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Returning for their small parts (although a little bigger than the last time) are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.

It was highly advertised that Willis and Schwarzenegger would have larger roles this time around and while technically this is true, it is also not really that. These two gentlemen don’t have much more to do here than in the first movie. They enter and leave the movie on a regular basis and the only thing they get to do is shoot and make fun of themselves. They even go so far as having Schwarzenegger utter his famous line “I’ll be back”, with Willis replying, “No, you stay, I’ll be back”, to which Arnie replies, “Yippie-ki-yay”. If that isn’t the pinnacle of painfully obvious fanservice than I don’t know what is. And all this transpires during the climactic shoot-out, which in the good tradition of The Expendables doesn’t make any sense at all.

Is there something fun to behold in this second Expendables? Well, that depends on your ability to handle plotholes, stupid dialogue and extreme amounts of gratuitous gore. From the very first moments Stallone and his crew appear, it is clear that we are not in for a subtle exercise. Blood splatters freely from bodies that are dismembered in a variety of fashions. I found nothing funny in all of this, while it was certainly played up as funny. There were some funny moments, but mostly my smiles came from a place where I thought to myself, “Geeze, they actually went there.” In the end all I could think was that a cast of this magnitude deserves more than what The Expendables 2 has become: a joke on itself and that is just not fair to those involved.

> IMDb