45 Years

“There are a lot of old people in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That’s not just a generalization, it’s fact. With all of the recent controveries over what was and wasn’t nominated, there’s been a lot of details swirling around about the membership that makes up the Academy. Up to now (there’s talk of changing this), membership was for life, so over time, you can see how you could end up with a high average age. I bring this up because the Academy tends to love old people movies. In recent years, look at the love films like Amour and Nebraska have gotten. So it seems completely within reason that this year’s wildcard best actress nominee would benefit from that particular taste, which is what happened with Charlotte Rampling being nominated for her work in 45 Years. You could also argue she benefit from some perceived category fraud on the part of a couple other contenders, but let’s not get into that now (we’ll save it for my pre-oscars recap).

In this film, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay’s Kate and Geoff are days away from celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, when they receive some news that shakes up their relationship, calling into question what the past 45 years have really be all about.

It was a fine film, but it just wasn’t for me. However, I can totally see how it would resonate with those who voted it in. I just found it slow and uneventful. I found myself trying to build out some of the mystery of it to make it more exciting, but there wasn’t really enough to keep that going. I often don’t connect too much with these wildcard entries that don’t otherwise have any visibility during awards season (there’s one every year, think Marion Cotillard for last year’s Two Days, One Night or Demian Bichir in A Better Life a few years back). At least I had earned myself a gift certificate for the theater that plays these indie awards darling films by winning a stairclimbing contest at work, so all it cost me to get there was the half hour trek each way in the previous night’s snow .

45 Years – \m/ \m/ \n”

High School Musical

“The internet told me that this past week was the ten year anniversary of High School Musical. Whaaaat? Geez, make me feel old, interwebz, why dontcha.

My love of HSM started out as an ironic love. Let’s go back ten years, to when I was still in college and very much obsessed with musical theatre (that part didn’t really change). A really good friend of mine, who was prolly the biggest theatre geek of the group, found out about HSM and was making a huge deal about it. I wasn’t able to go to the screening party she threw, so I waited for the DVD to watch it. I was not impressed. Turns out, she was excited for its existence and how bad it looked like it’d be. I watched it again later with more of a Rocky Horror type mentality and you know what, it grew on me. I still never quite took it seriously, but I had fun pretending to be caught up in the hype. We’d buy whatever memorabilia we could find that was either very cheap or very random. (I think my favorite was the cereal for its sheer WTF factor).

At some point, I realized that regardless of how cheesy and tv movie quality it was, it had it’s merits. I genuinely liked (and still do) Breaking Free. Each sequel also had at least one song that I truly loved.

Anyways, when I was seeing Zac Efron in Dirty Grandpa, I was thinking more about HSM (esp since Grandpa featured Efron singing karaoke). It took me a long time to admit to being a fan. He may only be two years younger than me (wait what, srsly only 2?) but it was hard not to see him as high school Troy Bolton. I think Neighbors is what finally changed the game for me. Anyways, I digress. My original plan was to stick around after Grandpa to see The Boy, but the combination of a wait for the movie time and a list of errands to run before the impending snow (even though I knew we were gonna be on the ligher side of the big blizzard), made me rethink that. I decided to take the opportunity to rewatch HSM and see how (likely poorly) it held up.

Yeeeah, that was a little tough to get thru. The bad over the top acting, the high school stereotypes, the infectious music. Although, I think my biggest problem all along was the way that they held their auditions and callbacks. The emotions around them are very real (almost too real, inducing some pretty panicked flashbacks) but the logistics are all wrong. And it bugs me. But you know what, I still sang along to Breaking Free. I recognized the dance moves I stole from “”We’re All in This Together”” for the production of Bat Boy I choreographed. I swooned over Troy (in a not creepy way, picturing present day Zac). I also hadn’t previously fully appreciated the multi-ethnic cast. You’d think that wouldn’t be so revelatory today, but sadly it still is.

If this movie’s existence prompted some young’uns to get into theatre, then it was all worth it. It also gave us a crop of good young actors, who went on to careers of varying success and DWTS appearances. I think the reason it became such a phenomenon is because the generation it was made for needed their own musical expression. I grew up in the second golden age of Disney, so I had a slew of musical masterpieces to grow up with. The next set of kids needed something of their own, besides borrowing ours. And being able to fill that void is a pretty good legacy for this series.”

Dirty Grandpa

“I don’t even know where to start with this. Let’s just jump in head first, and get it over with.

Dirty Grandpa stars Robert DeNiro and Zac Efron as grandpa/grandson on a road trip thru the south. I came in a few min late because the MBTA is stupid (I tried to circumvent the red line shuttle buses and ended up with a delayed #1 bus instead), so I never quite figured out exactly why Grandpa needed to get down to Boca so badly. It had something to do with Grandma having recently passed.

The two are polar opposites. Grandpa is an old horndog looking for sex, drugs, and rock and roll, who has no shame about letting every dirty thought spew from his mouth. Grandson is this preppy up and coming lawyer at the family firm, who is set to marry a fellow lawyer (Julianne Hough) that has him pretty whipped. Hilarity ensues. Or rather, it’s supposed to ensue.

The main problem with this movie is that it simply wasn’t funny. Like at all. Their main attempt at humor was let’s-see-how-many-dirty-things-we-can-get-DeNiro to say, followed by let’s-see-how-many-awkward-and-embarassing-situations-we-can-put-Zac-Efron-thru. I’m all for dirty humor, but for the love of jackass, please put some thought into it. The idea of an old man saying something that’s more likely to come out of fat boy’s mouth isn’t that funny in and of itself. You need to be clever about it, like Kevin Smith or Judd Apatow would be. Hell, even Trey Parker and Matt Stone would have written something better. I mean, c’mon, have some respect for the acting royalty you have on screen. DeNiro deserves so so much better.

To DeNiro’s credit, though, he never gave a hint of complaint on screen. Either he really was having that much fun with the role, or he’s simply that great of an actor that he still gave it his all, and instead of phoning it in, acted twice as hard by also convincing us he was enjoying himself. Honestly, as badly written as the film was, DeNrio and Efron never let it get unwatchable. I think they knew they were working on a pretty big stinker, but they found the right level of attention to give each awful line of dialog. Don’t just halfheartedly go through it, but don’t try to play it up and force it to be funny. Just deliver it seriously and thoughtfully, and move on to the next thing. That’s what kept me from clawing my eyes out. Well that, and a very buff Zac Efron in very little clothing.

Dirty Grandpa – \m/ \n”

Southland Tales

“It’s been about 15 years since Richard Kelly wowed the world with Donnie Darko. Well, okay, it sort of slipped in thru the backdoor, gaining attention over time. We all know I’m among the many who not only love but obsess over that cult masterpiece. He followed it up a few years later with Southland Tales. Despite a cast that includes Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott (when he was still relevant) and Justin Timberlake, it also got an under the radar release. So much the better because it was mostly reviled by those who saw it. A few years later, Kelly returned with The Box in wide release. I actually kinda liked it, except for the confusing third act, but I was firmly in the minority on that. Kelly hasn’t been heard from much since.

Anyways, today we’re zeroing in on that center flick, Southland Tales. I’ve tried watching it once before. I was utterly confused, but much too bored to try and make any sense of this 2.5 hour mess. I’m hoping it goes better this time.

I’m currently 20 minutes in, and things seem pretty bleak. I’m already confused about this futuristic setting, and half of the lines delivered sound like the actors have no idea what they’re saying, but they’re convinced it’s utterly important. And hey, is that Amy Poehler? Seriously how did he land this cast? Just skim thru the list of actors he managed to pull together. Yet, there’s a reason people don’t generally speak of this film. God help me, I’ve still got two hours left.

Did Sarah Michelle Gellar really just say “”Scientists are expecting the future to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted?”” Please send help. Oh lovely, Amy Poehler just said “”Where does it say in the Bible that you have to have a bowel movement””. Yeah prolly a good time to point out that I think this whole thing is meant to be an interpertation (clearly a secular one) of the book of Revelation. They were just talking about the two prophets.

The only way I think he was able to assemble this cast is that they prolly only saw their scenes and just assumed it would all make sense when it was put together. That has to be the only explanation.

On the upside, there’s a lot of shots of Venice Beach, Santa Monica and other areas of LA that look moderately familiar. That’s cool, I guess.

Now we’re an hour in. I know a little bit of what’s happening with a couple minor characters, but I don’t have the big picture.

And now SMG is singing that “”teen horniness is not a crime””. Did I mention she’s playing a porn star? How very un-Buffy-like. And Mandy Moore is pregnant with The Rock’s child. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but Richard Kelly did. Oh Wallace Shawn said it’s not The Rock’s. Well that makes everything better?

Okay, hour and twenty. Justin Timberlake basically had a music video in the middle of the movie. I’m so confused. Although, I’m fairly sure he’s at the arcade on the Santa Monica Pier. I’ve spent many hours and tokens there on the Wizard of Oz game.

Just in case things weren’t confusing enough, let’s add in an element of time travel, shall we? Quoth The Rock at 1:53 “”I’m a pimp, and pimps don’t commit suicide””. WEll okay then, if you say so.

In a move mimicking Mulholland Drive, we’ve got Rebekah Del Rio singing while weird stuff happens. I get the desire to wanna emulate that incredible movie, but it’s not enough to just be weird and confusing.

In other news, reading thru IMDB trivia, multiple cast members have been quoted as saying they don’t understand the movie. At least it’s not just me. Kelly calls this his “”misunderstood child””. There’s also a really long FAQ and a (broken but I fixed it here) link to an article that’s supposta explain it all. Maybe I’ll try and sift thru that all later. But not tonight.

Oh man, it’s over. Whew. That was interesting. I’m gonna try and regain some brain cells by diving into my ASL book, trying to learn some new things. At least I’ll have done one productive thing tonight”

Zoolander

“It’s Sunday night, on the eve of MLK day as I’m writing this. I was supposta catch a late-ish movie tonight. The Brattle, down the street in Harvard Square was showing Roar, an obscure and outrageous film with tagline “”No animals were harmed in the making of this film. Over 70 members of the cast and crew were””. Thinking about it again now, I kinda do wanna rush down there, but there’s snow outside. And it’s not worth dealing with, esp when I’d be walking back just before midnight. Nope, staying inside in the warms and adding the movie to my Best Buy wishlist instead. So with my newfound time this evening, that gives me a chance to revist a modern day classic that’s getting a sequel next month. Zoolander!

It took a while for this movie to grow on me. I originally thought it was too dumb and over the top. Now, well I’m not saying that it isn’t dumb or over the top, but there’s a crazy genius in it. It’s so ridiculous, you really can’t help but laugh at it, with it, whatever. Over time, so many quotable lines have worked their way into pop culture (I would often drop a turn left joke in my choreo rehearsals). Even watching now, there are gems I’ve totally forgotten.

I also love how this is a total family affair for Ben Stiller. Father Jerry Stiller is on board as Zoolander’s manager, and wife Christine Taylor is a reporter and eventual love interest for our favorite male model (her acting like she’s disgusted by him for half the movie is doubly hilarious given their real life relationship). Plus Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Jon Voight, Vince Vaughn, Milla Jovovich, David Duchovny, and more insane cameo appearances than I can even think of recalling here. Oh also, Alexander Skarsgard is completely unrecognizable. Yeah, before he was a bad ass vamp on True Blood, he was a dimwitted roommate to Derek Zoolander

I get so caught up in the one liners that I forget that there’s even supposta be a plot, and a very absurd one at that. Zoolander is brainwashed into being an undercover assassin set to kill the prime minister of Malaysia, whose labor and wage reforms threaten the fashion industry that exploits it. Yeah, you forgot there was a plot too, huh?

Aww, David Bowie :’-) Speaking of who/what I’ve forgotten is in this movie.

Huh, Duchovny’s explanation of why male models totally makes sense: peak physical condition, can get into any secure location, can’t think for themselves.”

The Forest

“Oh the January horror film, staple of the season. There’s actually another one or two coming out this year. You know how it goes (or maybe you don’t and it’s just me). Those crappy horror movies that would get swallowed up in a busier season get released now because people ain’t got much other selection available. Heaven help us.

I actually was interested in the premise of this one, hence why I actually bothered making an effort to go. Though if you’re keeping score at home, you’ll notice I saw this a week after it’s release. Guess I didn’t put all that much effort in. Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer leads this flick where she plays a girl looking for her missing twin sister. Sister was last seen headed to a mysterious forest in Japan where people are known to go to commit suicide. Ghosts are said to haunt the area, causing people to see horrible things leading them to harm themselves. Fun!

I think my biggest problem with most horror movies is that their characters are so dumb sometimes. How many times have you watched a movie and yelled at the screen telling your pretty but dim ingenue not to run up the stairs/go in the basement/open the closet/etc? You see my point? Okay so why would you insist on going into an unknown location by yourself, where you can’t rely on technology for help, and not even bring any gear with you? Okay, so she wasn’t alone when she started, having been able to acquire a guide and a companion, but homegirl didn’t even have any food in her pack. I’m sorry, but you just deserve whatever happens to you in this place.

There were parts of it I could get behind, mostly the mystery. Why did sister go into the forest? What’s the connection to travel companion, and can we trust him? What really happened to their parents when they were children? Unfortunately, there wasn’t any real satisfaction for most of them. The answer was usually just “”the forest is spooky””. I can’t help but feel cheated that the little bit that the movie offers to keep me holding on is never resolved. Not cool.

I was mostly more interested in seeing the story unfolding in the seats in front of me. When I walked in to the theater, a guy was leading his (presumably) daughter who may have been around 6 out of the auditorium. Umm, you sure you mean to bring her to see this? They came back and sat in the front row. There were one or two trips for concessions and such during the trailers. There were some trailers for some other horror films. I look over, and daughter is cowering in Daddy’s lap. Yeah this won’t end well, I thought. But except for a couple more trips in and out, she mostly did make it thru all of it. Parenting win or fail? Yet another mystery of The Forest that won’t ever be solved.

The Forest – \m/ \m/”

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Bengazi

“Okay, so here’s the turn of events that led to this weekend’s movie selection. Bear with me, or just skip this paragraph. The previous week, I was supposta have a wisdom tooth taken out on Fri afternoon. I planned a 3 movie marathon for Saturday, to which I would smuggle in some pb&j sandwiches and take it easy. Then my appointment got pushed back a week (dentist went to the hospital with chest pains or something…don’t worry, he seems fine now). That’s cool, I can just marathon this week. I was hoping to do The Forest, Daddy’s Home, and Point Break. Flash forward to when the movie times are released. Point Break is gone (no big loss). The Forest’s earliest show is after noon, thus costing me an extra few bucks and a few good hours. Daddy’s Home doesn’t have times that play nice with anything else. I reevaluated this week’s new releases. Norm of the North? Nope. Ride Along 2? Only if I have to. 13 Hours? Hmm, this could work. The times are favorable. But I know nothing about it. *quick research* Michael Bay and 2.5 hours? No thanks. But it’s the only thing that works. Plus, John Krasinski. We like him. Okay fine, we’ll try it, with two worst case scenario options: bailing early for Daddy’s Home or just passing out and taking a nap. The Forest has a workable time after that. This should suffice.

Here’s the short version: this is probably the least Michael Bay-ish Michael Bay film I’ve seen, which is a very good thing. Okay, so he still included way more action sequences than needed, but at least they didn’t have quick cuts like they were made by an ADD 12 year old making a music video. Let’s back up a bit.

I learn so much from movies. I’m savvy enough to understand that most of the events are dramatized, and not meant to depict exactly what happened. But I am able to pick out the base facts and find out some things I didn’t know. Just the first two minutes of this film taught me a lot some slightly less than current events I knew nothing about, mostly because I read more entertainment news than world news, a fact I cop to openly. This movie centers around a group of ex-military men who act as security around a covert CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya. Because of the intense violence and unrest in the area, it was one of the last such compounds in the country. On Sep 11, 2012 there was an attack on the American embassy that eventually spread to that compound. The mean leading this story were the ones who fought back. I don’t think there’s a single thing in this paragraph that I knew 30 hours ago (as of writing, not posting).

The movie was fascinating. I’m surprised it got such a low key release, since it follows in the same spirit as Lone Survivor and American Sniper, both of which were very well received. Most of it is structured around those six men. John Krasinski’s Jack was returning to the area, and its thru his eyes we see most of it. James Badge Dale (whom I still remember fondly from season 3 I think of 24), as Tyrone, is the leader of the security detail. Learning about them and their team was what really got me invested in the movie, instead of it just being a dry modern day battle film, which is what I had been concerned about.

The way the action unfolds is very suspenseful and tense. Again, not knowing my (recent) history very well, I had no idea how it would all unfold. Sometimes ignorance is helpful that way, shameful as it may be (again, full responsibility accepted). Yes, as previously stated, I do think a lot of it went on too long. If there’s one thing Bay has never learned, it’s how to kill his darlings when it comes to action and keep only what’s necessary (Transformers 3 anyone?).

I also never ever would have taken Krasinski for a Navy SEAL, ever! Homeboy pulled it off though! He hid from the world for a few months as he got in (fantastic) shape and really pushed his boundaries going stoic over his signature comedic. Very much interested in seeing more of this from him! The rest of the guys were pretty great too! Again, lots of attention to the characters, which goes such a long way for this type of movie.

Writing this now, I really am grateful that the movie scheduled worked out such that I was essentially forced to see this. Not a perfect film by any means, but an important one. I honestly learned a whole lot and was entertained at the same time. One of those is more important that the other.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Bodyguard

“Pretty much the exact same story setting up The Bodyguard as we had with Reality Bites. Black Friday sale. Meant to blog over Christmas. Didn’t get to it. Watched it while doing other things not intending to blog. Got absorbed in it. Etc etc etc.

Actually, funny (to me at least) story. I knew that it was a long movie, so I put it on during the week, intending to only watch half of it, and hitting the other half the next day. I didn’t expect to get so absorbed in the movie that I just had to stay up (slightly late) to finish.

I guess you can infer from the above that I’d never seen this before. Yes, there’s an early 90’s classic that was new to me. But keep in mind, having been in 2nd grade when this came out, A) no way would I have been allowed to see this R rated picture and B) I wouuld have had no interest in such a classically romantic film. However, I of course knew the theme song, I Will Always Love You because what person that existed in 1992 didn’t?

Okay, so for the uninitiated, The Bodyguard stars Kevin Costner as a former Secret Service agent now working security in the private sector gets hired to serve as a bodyguard/head of security for Whitney Houston’s actress/pop star character. And of course they don’t get along until they do, yadda yadda mushy stuff. Yeah, it’s about as cheesy as you’d expect, and yes I could predict pretty much every beat of the film. So why couldn’t I stop watching? There’s a reason cliches become cliche, and that’s because they work, and this movie is the epitome of them working well.

The characters were engaging, the performances electric, the chemistry palpable. Even though I knew how it would all play out, I had to see how it would all play out. Also, keeping in mind that 20+ years ago, we weren’t as jaded with blockbuster movies as we can be today, so this really was edge of your seat entertainment. And it kind of does stand the test of time, just because this is such a well known comtemporary classic. For a couple hours, you can transport yourself back twenty years and just enjoy some pure entertainment, not to mention the killer soundtrack vocals, courtesy of Ms Houston”

Reality Bites

“Every Black Friday, there’s always the one movie that I can’t believe is available for such a low price. The majority of the bargain deals are releases from within the past few years. Big Hollywood flops, mediocre box office takes, or the ones that everybody already has but they somehow have excess inventory. But there’s always the random classic, some gold among the crap. This year, hidden amongst the other 1.99 DVD’s was Reality Bites. Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller in a very Gen X dramedy. I’d never seen it, but I recognized the culture and time it stood for. As a child of the 90’s, though more of a Millennial or what was initially referred to as Generation Y, this is the time period I live for. And this movie was the voice of that generation.

I had hoped to watch and blog over the holidays, but didn’t have time. So I resigned myself to just watching it while I did some gaming, which I usually don’t quite pay enough attention to to be able to blog. But I was completely enthralled by this. Winona’s Lelaina has just graduated from college. In a situation similar to that which my generation faced upon college graduation, there’s a recession and minimal employment opportunities. We follow her as she films herself and her friends as they navigate life and relationships and jobs and everything else you’re suddenly hit with in adulthood.

I’m really suprised Hawke’s Troy isn’t a bigger pop culture figure. I really feel like I should have known who he was, sharing in the same infamy as Jared Leto’s Jordan Catalano. Okay, quick internet search does show that there are many who still carry a torch for him, but I still think I’ve been cheated in not knowing about him before. Basically he’s the hot mess of a bad boy with good intentions and bad actions that you know you really shouldn’t love, but you do anyways. Again, cue the Jordan Catalano comparisons.

The story, the characters, the 90’s, everything was all there, making this a movie I was destined to love (even despite the romantic subplots). When the movie was over, I had about 15 minutes until I had to go, so rather than bother getting up to change the disc, I put on the special features. That’s when I learned that Ben Stiller not only starred in it, it was his directorial debut. Did not expect that. And even more unexpected, Stiller goes on to mention people on the crew that were helpful to him, including cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Yeah, the one cinematographer I know, who won back to back Oscars for Gravity and Birdman and is a front runner again for The Revenant. He worked on this. Seriously, if all the brat pack movies of the 80s are still a big deal today, this movie needs to take a turn in the nostalgia spotlight.”

Birth of a Nation

“Continuing the trend of the-film-being-compared-to-was-better, we come to The Birth of a Nation. I was talking to a friend later that afternoon after I’d seen it. “”Was it perfect?”” he asked “”Because I’ll only see it if it’s perfect, given everything else around it””. He’s not gonna go see it.

Let’s get into that before we talk about the movie. Earlier this year when the film worked its way through the festival circuit, the buzz was incredible. The studio purchased it for a record amount, and all everyone could talk about was its award potential and the timeliness of its story. Then some past allegations of sexual assault from writer/director/actor Nate Parker began to surface and just like that the support for the film faltered and even its release was in jeopardy for a while.

While I certainly don’t condone the allegations, which were eventually dismissed, I decided to give the film a chance to speak for itself. It tells the story of a slave uprising in the south, led by Nat Turner, a slave and preacher. It was fine, but 12 Years a Slave was better.

I don’t want to sound insensitive, but I don’t think we got a whole lotta new info here. Yes it was a new story, and for sure the rebellion at the end was new. But the portrait of slavery wasn’t much different than 12 Years. There were a few more graphic depictions, but it felt like a bit of a rehash. I would have liked to see more focus on the rebellion, instead of it simply feeling like an afterthought. Maybe I’d feel differently if 12 Years hadn’t knocked it out of the park so recently, but if I’m advising someone who is on the fence about the film given the controversy (as I did earlier this week), I’d say it’s skip-able. While the story is a great one to bring into today’s conversations about race, as far as films go, there’s gotta be a better choice.

The Birth of a Nation – \m/ \m/ \m/”