201-203: Sister, Moonrise, Flynn

201-your-sisters-sister

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.

202-moonrise-kingdom

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.

203-being-flynn

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.

Advertisements

178-180: Safety Not Guaranteed, Innkeepers, Fear and Loathing

178: Safety Not Guaranteed

safety-not-guaranteed

Quirky indie movies are a dime a dozen, most of them self-important exercises in low-budget moping. But sometimes an indie surfaces that manages to find the strength to raise itself above the crowd and find something interesting to say. One of these is Safety Not Guaranteed, a great science fiction fantasy drama about people searching for meaning. Once again Mark Duplass manages to give us an engaging performance (earlier this year also in Your Sister’s Sister). He plays Kenneth, a man who thinks he has built a time machine. Young journalist Darius finds a classified by Kenneth asking for a companion on his experiments. Darius (Aubrey Plaza) convinces her editor to investigate further. Under the ‘supervision’ of Jeff (New Girl’s Jake Johnson), Darius and researcher Arnau (Karan Soni) go to find the mysterious man who must be out of his mind. Once arrived things start to take a turn for the absurd as everybody starts to take the opportunity to work out their own problems. The heart of the story is the relationship between Kenneth and Darius. Plaza and Duplass really hit it off and sparks fly every second they spent together. It is an endearing look at the lives of two people searching for more. On the side there are the adventures of Jeff and Arnau, both of which are funny, but ultimately not very important to the central storyline. The whole, however, is a beautiful mix of science fiction, drama and comedy. I totally recommend watching Safety Not Guaranteed, even if you don’t like independent cinema.

179: The Innkeepers

the-innkeepers

Deconstructionist horror movies are nothing new. Earlier this year I reviewed the excellent The Cabin in the Woods and last year I loved Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Now I can add The Innkeepers to that list, while this last addition to the genre does the deconstruction a little more subtle.  Everything in The Innkeepers revolves around the Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is about to close for good. Two custodians (Claire and Luke) are charged with taking care of the inn during its final weekend. Legend has it that the inn is haunted, or so Luke tells Claire. He is supposedly interested in the inn’s sordid history and has even devoted a website to it. During the weekend, however, strange things start to happen and old guests turn up to stay for one more night. Claire and Luke go looking for signs of the haunting, but in the end may be getting more than they bargained for. Director Ti West ramps up the tension from the beginning and doesn’t let up until the end when things start to really get out of hand. Along the way he inserts a surprising amount of humor into his screenplay which alleviates some of the more standard tropes of the haunted house genre. There is a tongue-in-cheek quality to The Innkeepers that isn’t overtly visible. I was often glued to the edge of my seat. Not because the movie was so scary or something like that, but because West paints a great picture that will stick with you. I recommend searching out The Innkeepers.

180: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

fear-and-loathing-in-las-vegas

Terry Gilliam adapting a Hunter S. Thompson novel is a match made in heaven. Gilliam’s movies always feel like fever dream with all its wild imagery and brilliant production design. Thompson’s famous novel about a weekend in Vegas at the end of the carefree hippy era filled with drugs, alcohol and other such debauchery fits perfectly with Gilliam’s visual exuberance. From the very first moment we know we are in for quite a ride. We see Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro speeding down a deserted highway on their way to Vegas. They are clearly operating under the influence of several types of drug a normal person wouldn’t think of taking, let alone combining. Once in Vegas the shenanigans don’t stop. Soon the drug use starts to take its toll and the situation turns more grim by the minute. This change is reinforced when we are witness to Del Toro intimidating the waitress (Ellen Barkin) at a diner on the wrong side of Vegas. It is an incredibly uncomfortable scene in an already uncomfortable movie. While the movie is more concerned with the drug use than the political underpinnings of Thompson’s novel I admire Gilliam’s courage to take on a project like this. I love Fear and Loathing for what it is: a crazy ride hopefully none of us will ever have to endure.

155-158: Jeff, Be Kind, Snow White, Short Circuit

Every once in a while I am going to play catch-up. Due to time constraints I am not able to write full-on reviews for every movie I watch. The movies I don’t have the time for I will aggregate in these Catch-Up episodes.

155: Jeff Who Lives At Home

Jeff Who Lives At Home seemed to me to be one of those hipster comedies that are just too clever for their own good, but I came away very surprised that this is actually a very funny and thoughtful movie. Jay and Mark Duplass are mostly known for their meandering ‘mumblecore’ outings, but this is nothing like those movies. Jason Segal plays Jeff and inhabits him completely. His musings on M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs are hilarious. Ed Helms plays his despicable brother Pat and it is nice to see him play up his more evil side for once and not be the corny good guy. While the movie takes some time to get up to steam the wait is well worth it. The characters are fleshed out really well and come together rather nice at the end. This is an excellent unassuming comedy about people stuck in their lives and finding a new way.

156: Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry is a gifted artist and his work has fascinated me for years. His beautiful music videos for Björk, Massive Attack and The Chemical Brothers in particular caught my eye early on. He eventually made one of my favorite movies of all time: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I get the feeling he has lost his way a bit in his own visual style. Nowhere else is that more evident than in Be Kind Rewind. Gondry’s homemade style of film-making is pushed to the brink of being annoying in this fairy tale about the sweding of movies. The conceit is that all the videotapes in a video store have been erased and that our heroes are supposed to figure out a way to fix this. They decide to recreate the movies on their own, which is fun in itself. Be Kind Rewind has no problem convincing us that these sweded movies are fun to watch. That’s where Gondry’s style fits perfectly. The problem is the fact that the rest of the movie just doesn’t add up too well. Be Kind Rewind is the textbook example that an idea can be very funny in short segments, but simply doesn’t add up to a good movie.

157: Snow White and the Huntsman

Can a good enough movie be ruined by a single piece of the puzzle? After seeing Snow White and the Huntsman I believe this to be the case. This is by no means a terrible movie. There are some problems with the pacing and some directorial choices (was the big green monster scene really necessary), but on a whole there is a lot to enjoy here. The movie looks brilliant and Charlize Theron is deliciously evil. Then why did I not enjoy it one bit? I think it’s because of Kristen Stewart as Snow White. I’m sure she is a decent actress in some parallel universe, but this role wasn’t the one to display any skill whatsoever. There is no emotion in her eyes and consequently I could not bring myself to be invested in the adventure she is on. I felt literally nothing and was bored to tears. Such a shame, because I felt there certainly was a lot in Snow White and the Huntsman that could justify it being a good movie.

158: Short Circuit

This is one of those movies that can do no wrong with me. It is up there with The Goonies, WarGames and Gremlins. Even now, nearly thirty-eight years old, I enjoy the hell out Short Circuit and as it so happens… my five-year-old son does as well. He eats it up until he is full and then asks for seconds. Just like I did when I was a kid. I used to watch the aforementioned movies on a loop. But what does the rational, cynical movie review part of my brain tell me about Short Circuit? It tells me the comedy is corny, the logic is non-existent and more of such movie review jargon. Often people say you have to watch movies with the target audience in mind, because it isn’t fair to judge a kids movie by adult standards. So when I see my boy enjoying the hell out of this movie, and I am sure many more to follow, I know enough. This movie works its magic ways and will continue to steal the hearts of a lot of children to come.