Doomsdays


A thief, another thief and an Indian chief.

A thief, another thief and an Indian chief.

(2013) Comedy (Self-Released) Justin Rice, Leo Fitzpatrick, Brian Charles Johnson, Laura Campbell, Reagan Leonard, Keith Leonard, Deshja Driggs-Hall, Susan Louise O’Conner, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Tom Cherwin, Jenny Bradley, Mark Bain, Jane Hollinger, Neal Huff, Nate Della Ratta, Michael Power, Jason Downs, Scott Hollinger, Wayne Pyle, Heidi K. Eklund, Mourka, Heather M. Kayal. Directed by Eddie Mullins

Florida Film Festival 2014

It’s no secret that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Resources are growing more and more scarce, a trend which is only going to get worse. The environment is pretty well screwed. Politicians dither and posture and do nothing and the well-to-do are positioning themselves to get their chunk of what remains. No wonder there are those who have given up on society.

Dirty Fred (Rice) and Bruho (Fitzpatrick) are two of those. They aren’t your average dropouts however – think of them as hipster survivalists. Absolute believers in the peak oil theories as espoused by M. King Hubbert, rather than find themselves a rathole to hunker down in, they instead prefer the high life of breaking into expensive vacation homes in the rural Catskills where they enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labors – until the liquor and food run out, the owners come back or they just plain get bored.

Fred fancies himself a bit of an intellectual whereas Bruho has almost a phobia about cars; he likes to wreck them but absolutely refuses to set foot in one, so the two of them wear down a lot of shoe leather. They indulge in random acts of vandalism and occasionally hook up with local girls…well Fred does anyway. Bruho doesn’t seem to have the interest in sex with either gender.

At a house party that they crash (which is, apparently, itself thrown without the knowledge of the residents of the house) they meet up with Jaiden (Johnson), a teenager tired of being picked on and marginalized. He begins as a tag along which Fred finds amusing but Jaiden has his uses – mainly to do the grunt work Fred is too lazy to do himself. However at a more refined house party that the boys crash, Fred hooks up with Reyna (Campbell) who soon discovers that these aren’t local boys and fascinated by their lifestyle, joins in. This Bruho seems extremely set against as adding a girl to the mix is only going to make trouble. However, as Fred is something of a dick, chances are she probably won’t be sticking around long.

This isn’t really a black comedy but more of a really dark grey. Mullins, a former film critic, hits a home run with his first feature. This could have easily descended into a miasma of indie cliche and hipster chic but thanks to a superior script and fine performances the movie is elevated to something different.

Fitzgerald and Rice have some terrific chemistry and play off of each other nicely. Their banter is genuine and organic and you don’t for an instant doubt that these guys haven’t been hanging around each other for ages. They have a comfortable familiarity with each other in that both Fred and Bruho know their roles and are content to keep to them.

Johnson reminded me of a Superbad-era Jonah Hill and that’s not a bad thing at all.  He starts out as the odd man out but by the film’s end fits in nicely with the two main characters. Campbell gives the movie a nice twist, a strong and well-written female character which even in indie films can be kind of rare. She is flawed and unapologetic for those flaws and she holds her own with the male leads.

You might find yourself laughing out loud despite yourself; some of the wit here is droll and sometimes it’s one of those things where you find yourself shaking your head when you realize what you’re laughing at. The antisocial behavior and overall zeitgeist of the movie’s main characters may be off-putting to some and if you are offended by random acts of property destruction and disrespect to the haves of our society, you may want to find some other movie to see. Otherwise, this is one of the more intriguing narrative features at this year’s Florida Film Festival and an indie film to keep an eye out for at your local festival.

REASONS TO GO: Elicits much guilty laughter. Great chemistry between Rice and Fitzpatrick. Refreshingly oddball.

REASONS TO STAY: Some might not appreciate the antisocial behavior.

FAMILY VALUES:  Quite a bit of foul language, some scenes of drunkenness and drug use, some sexuality, depictions of vandalizing and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rice is also frontman for the indie rock band Bishop Allen.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/11/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bellflower

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Before I Disappear

Love Birds (2011)


If it looks like a duck...

If it looks like a duck…

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Freestyle) Rhys Darby, Sally Hawkins, Emily Barclay, Craig Hall, Bryan Brown, Dave Fane, Faye Smith, Wesley Dowdell, Alvin Maharaj, Mia Pistorius, Sonia Gray, Hannah Matthews, John Callen, Alan Harris, Michaela Rooney, Beck Taylor, Tane Cullen, Eryn Watson, Matthew Metcalfe, Bronwyn Bradley, Stacey Leilua, Sara Wiseman. Directed by Paul Murphy

The Bee Gees once wondered “How can you mend a broken heart?” There is no single way to do it. Some say that time heals all wounds. Others recommend getting right back in the saddle again. Still others say that you need a hobby to take your mind off of things.

Doug (Darby) needs to find his own answer. His girlfriend Susan (Smith) – who is a spectacular beauty for what it’s worth – has dumped him on his rear end, leaving his world upside down and inside out. He is moping around his house when he hears a thump on his roof and upon further investigation discovers a wounded duck who is incapable of flying. Doug, being a good-hearted soul, takes the bird in but it soon becomes more trouble than it’s worth – keeping him awake nights, refusing to let him bathe alone, and pooping, pooping, everywhere.

Most of us would be making ourselves a nice Duck a l’orange right about then but as I said Doug is a good-hearted soul so he consults with Holly (Hawkins), the local vet. Her assistant Brenda (Barclay) immediately realizes that her boss should be with this guy but Holly, a single mum, is cool towards him so Brenda takes matters into her own hands.

The two eventually fall in love despite the hostility of Holly’s son Taylor (Taylor) towards his mom’s new beau but the more time Holly and Doug spend together, the better things get. Then Susan decides that she wants Doug back.

This is fairly pedestrian rom-com stuff with predictable plot points but what elevates it slightly above the rest is the charming and affable Darby, a fairly big name in New Zealand as a standup comic and occasional comic actor. His  chemistry with Hawkins as Holly is actually quite natural and charming. The cast is also buoyed by Watkins as Doug’s best friend who’s an absolute rotter and his buddies Gurneesh (Maharaj), Kanga (Fane) and Brent (Dowdell) who provide much of the physical comedy.

Another big plus is the addition of Queen to the soundtrack. Doug has become a huge Queen fan so we hear their music pretty much throughout the movie and it is utilized quite well, actually. Quite frankly, I have to say you can’t go wrong with Queen on your soundtrack (Da Queen will bear me out on that one).

You’ll see the plot points coming a mile off and you’ll know how the movie ends even before you stream it onto your computer (a DVD edition has yet to be released in the States) but you have to admire a movie that tries this hard to be charming and still manages to pull it off.

WHY RENT THIS: Darby is very likable. Laid back and gently humorous.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks big laughs. Doesn’t add anything to the genre.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a smattering of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Former international cricket stars Alan Border and Ian Smith make cameo appearances.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Danny Deckchair

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: 10,000 B.C.

Anna Karenina (2012)


Alone in a crowd,

Alone in a crowd,

(2012) Drama (Focus) Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, David Wilmot, Shirley Henderson, Holiday Grainger, Pip Torrens, Susanne Lothar, Alexandra Roach, Luke Newberry, Aruthan Galieva, Tannishtha Chatterjee. Directed by Joe Wright

Our Film Library

Everyone knows the old saw that love is blind. We mostly come to think that it means that looks and faults don’t matter when you’re in love, but I don’t think that’s really the case. What I think that the statement means is that we are blind to the consequences of falling in love, so emotionally inundated we are by love.

The Leo Tolstoy classic has been made into big screen extravaganzas several times, most notably with the legendary Greta Garbo in the title role (twice). Here we get Keira Knightley who has shown that she has plenty of talent although perhaps not quite a match to her luminous beauty which is considerable; the girl might just be the prettiest face in all the world.

A brief plot synopsis for those not familiar with the Tolstoy work; Anna is the wife of Karenin (Law), a well-respected Russian government official in Tsarist Russia but one can scarcely characterize the marriage as a happy one. Karenin is emotionally distant, occasionally affectionate but generally not present. Many women over the years have identified with Anna, alone in a marriage to a man who barely realizes she’s there at all.

When she takes the train to Moscow on behalf of her brother, Count Oblonsky (Macfadyen) who has cheated on his wife and who has sent him to plead with said wife Dolly (Macdonald) to take him back, she meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), a dashing young soldier who is the object of unrequited love for Kitty (Vikander) who is anxious to marry the young man. Kitty, in the meantime, is the object of affection for Levin (Gleeson) who is thinking of freeing his serfs and is being urged by Oblonsky to take one of them for his wife. However, everything is thrown in disarray by Anna who falls in love with Vronsky. Hard.

The two begin seeing each other and are none too discreet about their feelings. This is a big no-no in St. Petersburg society at the time which tolerated affairs but only as long as they were kept in the shadows where they belong. It was a kind of hypocrisy that in a large way still informs our somewhat hypocritical  views towards the sexes. Even if you’re not a Russian literature enthusiast or familiar with the novel, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that this all leads to tragedy – and it does.

Wright has taken the conceit of staging the movie as if it were a play in a dilapidated theater (and in fact, they filmed in one just outside of London which was essentially the main filming location). There are backdrops that are very theatrical and occasionally we see audience members in box seats observing the drama. Players in the play sometimes step onto the front of the stage and address the audience directly. It’s certainly a bold move, the kind of thing someone like Baz Luhrmann might do.

But I have to admit it all feels kind of gimmicky and there’s no doubt that the stage-centric production design sometimes gets distracting. The costumes are lush enough (costume designer Jacqueline Durran won an Oscar for it) and the movie looks amazing, thanks in large part to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.

The acting though is kind of spotty, surprisingly. Law fares the best, making Karenin who often comes off as uncaring and downright mean in other filmed versions of the novel almost sympathetic here. Macfadyen, as the lusty Oblonsky, also performs well as a character that is a bit of a cad. Knightley, however, is oddly subdued here. There are almost no sparks between her and Taylor-Johnson which is critical – you have to be able to see why Anna would risk so much and get the depth of the emotion she feels for Vronsky. It is not helped by Taylor-Johnson who makes Vronsky something of a caricature. The miscasting for the role is obvious – and crucial.

The British film industry has always been reliable about producing costume epics as well as anyone, particularly those based on classics and Wright, with Sense and Sensibility and Atonement both to his credit, is as adept as anyone working now at the genre. However, the overwrought concept soon overwhelms the story and becomes more the focus than Tolstoy’s classic tale does. My recommendation is either read the novel or if you prefer seeing it onscreen is to find the 1935 version with Garbo which really is a classic. This is more of a noble failure.

WHY RENT THIS: Sumptuous production design and costumes. Decent performances by Law and Macfadyen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overwrought. Conceit of giving the film the look of a theatrical performance becomes distracting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sexuality and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot had to leave the film during pre-production due to painful sciatica which eventually required back surgery. He was replaced by Wright’s regular collaborator Seamus McGarvey.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a nifty time lapse photograph of the main set’s construction as well as interviews with the cast members.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.9M on a $51.6M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: In Secret

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

The Notebook (2004)


What could be more romantic than a couple reuniting in the rain?

What could be more romantic than a couple reuniting in the rain?

 

(2004) Romance (New Line) James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Kevin Connolly, Sam Shepard, Joan Allen, James Marsden, Starletta DuPois, Heather Wahlquist, Ed Grady, Jennifer Echols, Andrew Schaff, David Thornton, Tim O’Brien, Meredith O’Brien, Cullen Moss, Kweli Leapart, Jamie Anne Allman, Traci Dinwiddie, Lindy Newton. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

CINEMAOFTHEHEART-4

Love has a tendency to transcend all the obstacles laid before it, even if it takes years. Love has a patience that most people don’t possess these days.

Duke (Garner) visits an elderly woman (Rowlands) in a nursing homes. She has a form of dementia (Alzheimer’s? It’s never made clear) that makes her a handful. She seems to be calmed down when Duke reads to her from a fading handwritten journal.

The story that unfolds is that of Noah (Gosling), a smirking self-confident boy from the wrong side of the tracks, and Allie (McAdams), a girl from a life of privilege and wealth. He asks her out. She says no. He persists until finally she says yes. It takes just one date before she realizes that she’s in love with him.

Her parents (Shepard, Allen) are aghast. This is not what they raised their daughter for. Stubborn, Allie defies them. They send her off to college. Noah goes off to war. Noah writes her every day but the letters are intercepted by the mom. Disheartened, each one believing the other has moved on, they at last both go their separate ways, Allie into the arms of Lon Hammond (Marsden) who her parents definitely approve of.

Noah doesn’t really move on though. He buys the broken-down house that he was going to buy for Allie and she at last realizes that he truly loves her. Her mom, crestfallen, shows Allie the letters that for whatever reason she kept. Now Allie is faced with a choice – love or duty. Which shall she choose?

Author Nicholas Sparks is a Southerner so the lines between the two can be somewhat blurred. While this wasn’t the first of his novels adapted for the screen, it is the best-loved of them to date. There are plenty of folks who look to this as a touchstone for romantic movies; it is the favorite of many. I’m not one of them, but I do find this to be the least maudlin of his efforts.

Part of the appeal here is the performances of McAdams and Gosling. There is legitimate chemistry between the two and they make one of the most appealing screen couples of the 21st century. Cassavetes, showing himself a chip off the old block, utilizes the beautiful cinematography of Robert Fraisse and strong performances from the entire cast to create an atmosphere. While the story itself is no great shakes and lends itself to all sorts of emotional manipulation, Cassavetes prevents the film from descending into treacle by allowing his performers to create realistic personalities. Oftentimes in Nicholas Sparks adaptations the characters are of the cookie cutter variety but here these are interesting people you’d actually like to spend time with.

While the “twist” ending is one that you should be able to figure out before it is sprung upon you, that doesn’t lessen the emotional impact. In fact, this is the kind of movie that will bring tears to the eyes of all but the most hard-hearted viewer. Ladies, if your boyfriend doesn’t get misty-eyed at a minimum at least once during the course of this movie, dump him immediately. You’ve gotta like a Valentine’s Day movie that can act as a litmus test as to whether your boyfriend is in touch with his emotions or not.

WHY RENT THIS: Inspiring performances from Gosling and McAdams. Terrific atmosphere and supporting cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Nicholas Sparks, you won’t like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a little bit of sexuality and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The kitchen table depicted in the movie was actually built by Gosling when he was preparing for the role, living in Charleston for two months and rowing the Ashley river each morning and building furniture the rest of the day.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a featurette on author Nicholas Sparks on the DVD version while the Collector’s Edition Gift Set Blu-Ray features a look at director Cassavetes and his film pedigree. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition also includes a heart-shaped locket, a notebook (how appropriate!) and five photo cards from the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $115.6M on a $29M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Evening

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Cinema of the Heart concludes!

The Decoy Bride


The runaway decoy bride.

The runaway decoy bride.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (IFC) Kelly Macdonald, Alice Eve, David Tennant, Hamish Clark, James Fleet, Dylan Moran, Sally Phillips, Michael Urie, Federico Castelluccio, Danny Bage, Hannah Bourne, Maurice Beattie, Muriel Barker, Jeannie Fisher, Sally Howitt, Rony Bridges, Matthew Chalmers, Victoria Grove, Alisha Bailey. Directed by Sheree Folkson

CINEMAOFTHEHEART-2

Our celebrity-obsessed society sometimes forces people into unusual situations. People who crave fame go out of their way to get it while those who seek privacy often have to go to extreme efforts to achieve it.

Hollywood megastar Laura Tyler (Eve) just wants to get married but like most divas she has the perfect wedding in mind. A wedding that doesn’t involve the paparazzi and helicopters buzzing overhead. Her husband-to-be, noted author James Neil Arber (Tennant) had recently written a novel set in the lovely Scottish island of Hegg and Laura thinks it might be lovely to get married there.

The press gets wind of it though and Laura is at her wits end. Ready to walk, the star is mollified by her press team who come up with the brilliant idea of getting a local girl to dress and look like Laura so that the press can chase her, leaving Laura and her groom to tie the knot in peace.

The girl chosen, Katie Nic Aoidh (Macdonald) is getting over a broken heart of her own, but could sure use the money the publicists are paying for the gig. In order to fool the press, Katie will have to spend a lot of time with the groom and she and James get along pretty much like the Israeli Secret Service and Hezbollah. Of course, you know what’s going to happen to them.

This is one of those movies that you can point to later in the careers of the two leads and say “I was a fan of them back when.” Tennant and Macdonald are both up and coming stars, Tennant already with Doctor Who under his belt and Macdonald voicing Merida in Brave and impressing on Boardwalk Empire.

Mostly the press has been complaining about the lack of chemistry between the two of them but I disagree. What their onscreen relationship suffers from more to the point is lack of characterization. Neither one of their characters has been given a good deal of depth to work with and some of that is due to the writing, but both actors – who have been marvelous when given something to work with – fail to imbue their characters with any soul. The problem becomes that the audience isn’t as invested in seeing the couple work out. Now, I’m not saying that the two are awkward together – there is SOME spark here – but just not as much as I would have liked.

As romantic comedies go, the movie tends to rely more on charm than on out and out jokes although there are a few bridal gown pratfalls and some lowbrow humor here and again. A few more jokes would have been welcome here.

I like that there aren’t any sharp edges to the movie; while it ostensibly is lampooning Hollywood’s celebrity entitlement culture and our own obsession with it, the satire is gentle and likable. It doesn’t slap you in the face so much as tickle you on the underside of your arm. This is a good thing when you’re going for a romantic mood with your sweetie.

Sometimes you want to cuddle up with something that’s easy to watch but at the same time isn’t something you’ve seen a hundred times and I’m certain this will fit the bill for that mindset. It will feel familiar – a lot of the jokes and situations are regurgitated from other films and television sources – but at the same time you’ll also get an attractive couple and, along with the absolutely jaw-dropping beauty Eve you get to see them at the beginning of their careers. Nothing is certain, especially in the notoriously fickle film industry but these three young stars have a bright future ahead of them.

WHY RENT THIS: Gentle and easy to digest. McDonald, Eve and Tennant are all solid.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: As a comedy, could use a bit more humor.

FAMILY VALUES: Some slightly rude content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers received a 300,000 pound grant from Scottish Screen (the national board for film and television in Scotland), the largest amount possible.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Not much but there are some cast interviews and a fairly interesting special effects featurette.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $859 domestic on a $4.1M production budget; please note that its European box office isn’t included.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Runaway Bride

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Cinema of the Heart continues!

The Legend of Hercules


If only Kellan Lutz was this electric onscreen...

If only Kellan Lutz was this electric onscreen…

(2014) Swords and Sandals (Summit) Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan, Liam McIntyre, Rade Serbedzija, Jonathan Schaech, Luke Newberry, Kenneth Cranham, Mariah Gale, Sarai Givaty, Dimiter Dochinov, Nikolai Sotirov, Radoslav Parvanov, Spencer Wilding, Bashar Rahal, Vladimir Mihailov. Directed by Renny Harlin

I don’t know what it is about movies about the Greek demigod Hercules that they are almost uniformly awful, going back to the Steve Reeves epics of the 60s (which were actually the best of them and could only be classified as mediocre) to the godawful Schwarzenegger version Hercules in New York to even the Disney animated feature which remains one of their weakest ever. However, just when you thought they couldn’t get any lower…

When Queen Alcimene (McKee) of Greece realizes her tyrant of a husband, King Amphitryon (Adkins) wages war not for gain but out of sheer bloodlust, she knows he must be stopped. She prays to the goddess Hera for deliverance and the goddess appears, promising a son who would be the downfall of the father. She allows her husband, the God Zeus to lie with her and father her bouncing new baby boy whom will be named Heracles…er, Hercules which translates to Gift of Hera although the boy will be called Alcides as her hubby ain’t too keen on being reminded of the boy’s divine parentage. Instead, he showers favors on his mean-spirited elder son Iphicles (Garrigan).

Hercules (Lutz) grows to manhood and falls for the Cretan princess Hebe (Weiss) whose last name I’m certain is Jebe. She’s a comely girl but she is promised to Iphicles who is heir to the throne. She of course would rather have the buff Hercules and conspires to run off with him. Unfortunately they are caught and Hercules is banished to Egypt to take on a rebellious city-state on an expedition led by Sotiris (McIntyre) who knows they are in for a rough ride when the number of soldiers assigned to him is cut in half. The whole thing is a set-up of course and Sotiris and Hercules are the sole survivors and are sold into slavery to be gladiators in a mud pit – think of it as a combination of MMA and female mud wrestling. Can Hercules win his freedom and get back home in time to prevent his true love’s marriage to his brother?

There are just so many problems with this movie I don’t know where to begin. The script might be a good spot – the dialogue is so cringeworthy that you spend the entire 99 minutes (which seemed like 199) in a permanent twitch rendering the audience in a kind of perpetual seizure throughout the film.

I haven’t seen so many slo-mo action shots in which regular speed stunt sequences are slowed down and then returned to normal speed. It happens so often that it becomes tedious and actually caused me to twitch further. In fact something tells me that it may well have been more entertaining to watch surveillance camera footage of the audience than to watch the actual film. Where is Mystery Science Theater 3000 when you need them?

Kellan Lutz. Ah, Kellan Lutz. He is a good looking lad with an easy-going demeanor and an engaging grin but at least at this point he doesn’t have the charisma needed to carry a movie like this. In fact, the best performances here were Adkins as the frothing-at-the-mouth King and distinguished character actor Serbedzija as Herc’s tutor. The rest of the cast…aieee!

Even the CGI isn’t up-to-snuff – an early sequence in which Hercules battles the Nemean Lion is so bad that the audience is yanked right out of the movie, which might not be a bad thing. This isn’t a movie you should get lost in.

It gives me no joy to write a review like this. Director Renny Harlin has some pretty good flicks to his credit although admittedly it’s been awhile since I can remember one of his movies fondly. Lutz seems to be a nice enough guy but this is a really, really bad film and I’d be doing my readers a disservice by sugarcoating it. There are really very few redeeming factors other than the very buff Lutz is shirtless for virtually the entire movie which may be appealing to those who find that sort of thing appealing. Otherwise, just keep in mind that this may well be the leading contender for worst movie of the year.

REASONS TO GO: Bored out of your skull.

REASONS TO STAY: Self-respect.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a great deal of combat action and violence and a couple of scenes of sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: To maintain his physique, Lutz did more than a thousand push-ups and abdominal crunches every day on set.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 3% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

FINAL RATING: 2/10

NEXT: August: Osage County

Holiday Inn


Holidays are inn.

Holidays are inn.

(1942) Holiday (Paramount) Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon, Leon Belasco, Marek Windheim, James Bell, John Gallaudet, Shelby Bacon, Joan Arnold, Edward Arnold Jr., Loretta Barnett, Irving Berlin, Ruth Clifford, Muriel Barr, Jane Novak, Lora Lee, Teala Loring. Directed by Mark Sandrich

hollynquill-2013

Although not strictly a Christmas movie (Christmas was but one of several holiday sequences filmed for the movie), it continues to be remembered as one and of course the presence of the timeless Christmas classic song “White Christmas” – which would win an Oscar for Best Song that year – guarantees this film a place in the annals of Christmas films.

The lightweight plot concerns a song and dance trio comprised of Jim Hardy (Crosby), Ted Hanover (Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Dale). Jim and Lila are preparing to leave the act get married and retire to a farm in Connecticut but Lila has second thoughts and instead leaves Jim for Ted in order to continue dancing. Jim is heartbroken and follows through with his decision to leave show business for farming.

Farming turns out to be easier said than done and Jim decides to turn his farm into an inn that is only open on holidays. In order to attract crowds, he hits upon the idea to present entertainment themed around each holiday. Wanna-be entertainer Linda Mason (Reynolds) manages to get a try-out and becomes a featured attraction and as the crowds begin to pour in, Ted and Lila are contracted by Jim’s agent Danny (Abel) to work at the Inn.

However, it’s no longer Ted and Lila – she’s left Ted for a Texas oil millionaire. Ted, looking for a partner, decides to come by the inn and is struck by Linda’s talent and beauty but Jim has fallen for Linda too and goes to extreme lengths to keep Ted from her. However when Linda discovers what Jim’s up to, especially when Ted arranges for a studio honcho to sign him and Linda, she leaves Jim and takes up with Ted, intending to marry him.

Once again Jim is devastated but even more so. His maid Mamie (Beavers) urges him to go to Hollywood and fight for the woman he loves. Jim resolves to do just that but is it too late?

The plot is paper thin and the story is incredibly dated. Modern audiences may groan at some of the twists and turns and there’s no doubt that the movie is definitely a product of its times. There is an enormous charm about it however and you really can’t go wrong with Crosby crooning and Astaire dancing up a storm. Those are the kinds of elements that can elevate any sort of movie.

There is a scene in which the performers put on blackface and perform in an idiom which today is considered racially offensive. Some networks such as AMC who air the movie from time to time will cut that sequence out. Most of the DVD versions do have it in the original form with the offending scene intact and Turner Classic Movies, who have a policy not to edit or alter their classic movies in any way, does air the movie in its original form. Those who are offended by such depictions should be aware that it is there however.

That aside this is a movie that remains a heartwarming classic. Some families make it an annual tradition to view this on Christmas day if for no other reason than to hear Crosby crooning the classic “White Christmas” the way it was first seen by the general public (he would go on to sing the song in two other movies). While generally I wouldn’t rate a movie as dated as this one this highly, the flaws of the film are overcome by its stars and by the Irving Berlin songs that elevate this above B-movie fare.

WHY RENT THIS: Timeless Irving Berlin songs. Cute plot. Astaire and Crosby.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very dated.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some smoking if that kind of thing bothers you.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The popular hotel chain took its name from this movie.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The commentary is not only by film historian Ken Barnes but also includes some archival comments from Crosby and Astaire.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Broadway Melody of You Name It

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Out of the Furnace


Woody Harrelson is perfectly willing to take off his shirt for Christian Bale.

Woody Harrelson is perfectly willing to take off his shirt for Christian Bale.

(2013) Drama (Relativity) Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower, Bobby Wolfe, Dendrie Taylor, Carl Ciarfalio, Nancy Fosser, Bingo O’Malley, Jack Erdie, Gordon Michaels, Angela Kauffman, Charles David Richards, Tommy Lafitte, Tiffany Sander McKenzie. Directed by Scott Cooper

Times are tough. You don’t need to go to a movie to tell you that. In the Rust Belt, the manufacturing  jobs that were once the bread and butter in the region have been shrinking away, slowly disappearing from view. That leaves the residents there scrambling to find other ways to make money.

Russell Baze (Bale) is one of the lucky few who still has employment at a steel mill. He lives with a young woman named Lena (Saldana) who adores him and the two are talking about starting a family. His brother Rodney (Affleck) is back home from a tour of Iraq in the army. Sure their dad (O’Malley) is dying of cancer but they have his  brother and their Uncle Red (Shepard) to help them out. Things could certainly get a whole lot worse.

And then they do. Russell is involved in an incident not his fault that results in him getting sent to jail for a few years. Things begin to fall apart. Rodney goes back to Iraq. Their father dies. Even Lena leaves him, taking up with the chief of police Wesley (Whitaker) of their small town outside of Pittsburgh. All of a sudden things don’t make sense quite as much.

When Rodney returns and Russell finishes his time in jail, they both need to pick up the pieces. For Russell, that means obsessively stalking Lena and getting his job back at the mill while fixing up his dad’s old place. For Rodney, that means bare knuckle fights to pick up cash for a debt he owes to local bar owner and dealer of all things shady John Petty (Dafoe).

Rodney needs more money to fix up his debt however and he cajoles Petty into getting him a fight in rural New Jersey where a meth kingpin named Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson) runs things. Like any decent mountain community, they don’t cotton to no city folk telling them how to run things. When things go bad, Russell is left to pick up the pieces and do the right thing for his brother.

First of all, this is a movie that isn’t well-served by its trailer. It gives away an important plot twist and intimates that this is a different kind of movie than it is. The trailer implies that this is a thriller and quite frankly, that element of the movie only takes place over the last 20 minutes or so. The rest of the movie is more of a drama which is how I’m characterizing it now.

Cooper, whose first feature was Crazy Heart takes a completely different turn here on this his second. The milieu is much bleaker which is saying something considering that his last movie was about an alcoholic country singer whose career is fading into the twilight. Cooper has a knack at capturing working class life and working class people. As an actor himself he also manages to wring some excellent performances out of his actors.

Bale delivers just such a performance. He’s low-key and soft-spoken throughout most of the film but rage boils in him and sometimes boils over. He’s a decent man at heart but life has thrown just about everything at him he can tolerate and then some. There’s a scene with Saldana on a wooden bridge in which he tries to rekindle things after he gets out of prison that is so heartbreaking that you won’t be able to get it out of your head. In fact, it’s not just Saldana and Bale that do good work here – nearly every member of the principal leads is mesmerizing.

Harrelson is also noteworthy as the villain. When DeGroat meets Russell for the first time in Petty’s office and the two have words, Russell asks him “You got a problem with me?” and DeGroat responds “I got a problem with everybody” and that encapsulates the character. He’s as mean as a rattlesnake and prone to outbursts of violence as evidenced by the very first scene in which DeGroat beats a man half to death for intervening when DeGroat assaults his date at a drive-in. Harrelson captures that meanness and rage. There’s nothing redeeming about DeGroat, no qualities at all that make things around him better. He’s a cancer in his community that everyone is afraid to operate on.

There are a lot of good things about this movie but for some reason I couldn’t connect with it. Maybe I wasn’t ready for a movie quite as bleak as this. Perhaps it’s because it’s a little bit too long. Maybe the ending scene which didn’t ring true and was followed by an extraneous coda did me in. Or maybe it just wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with. Da Queen was very taken by the movie and would have given it a significantly higher score than I did – she was frankly surprised that I didn’t enjoy it as much as she did because normally I go for these sorts of films.

For whatever reason I didn’t here and that can be taken for whatever grain of salt you wish to give it. The elements are all here for a good movie and in fact you may well find it to be more rewarding than I did. For me there didn’t seem to be much of a point to it – unrelenting violence and despair with nothing at the end that made me think it was all worth it. Perhaps that was the point. In any case, I found this a movie in which the ingredients were superior but it didn’t add up to a gourmet dish.

REASONS TO GO: Solid performances throughout by an excellent cast.

REASONS TO STAY: Overly long. The ending was quite the letdown.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of violence, some pretty strong language and some drug content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie playing at the drive-in during the opening scene is Midnight Meat Train.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Winter’s Bone

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Holly and the Quill Christmas movie festival begins!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


Stanley Tucci is surprised by the sudden proposal of Jennifer Lawrence.

Stanley Tucci is surprised by the sudden proposal of Jennifer Lawrence.

(2013) Science Fiction (Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone, Toby Jones, Lynn Cohen, Patrick St. Esprit, Meta Golding, Megan Hayes. Directed by Francis Lawrence

With the Twilight series completed (at least for now), the studios scrambled to find a new franchise that would appeal to a similar demographic. They’ve found it with The Hunger Games based on the best-selling Young Adult book series by Suzanne Collins.

Following the events of the first film (there are spoilers for that film if you haven’t seen it yet), Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) are preparing to go on their Victor’s Tour of the 12 Districts of Panem, a traditional responsibility of the winners. Their love story has captivated all of Panem which has the tyrannical President Snow (Sutherland) a bit worried. You see, he has seen through the pair’s ruse. Katniss still has it bad for the strapping miner Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth) and her sham relationship with Peeta was something done so that they could both survive. Snow warns Katniss that she not only has to convince Panem that her feelings for Peeta are genuine – she has to convince the President first of all.

This isn’t the same Panem that Katniss left however. The repressive policies that have created such a wide gulf between the haves of Capital and the Have-Nots of the Districts has begun to spark some thoughts of uprising with Katniss herself a symbol that is giving the people the courage to stand up for themselves. The new master of the games, Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) agrees with the President that Katniss needs to go – but not as a martyr. She must be associated with the government of Panem and become a symbol of its corruption and repression – then they can kill her.

And he has just the means to do it. The 75th Edition of the Hunger Games is coming up, the so-called Quarter Quell and rather than getting all-new tributes, Heavensbee proposes that the tributes be reaped from the existing pool of victors. Katniss, as the only female winner from District 12 is automatically chosen to go and this time she’ll be up against trained killers who have a win in the Games to their credit. This will be a Hunger Games like none seen before.

While director Gary Ross has exited and Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) has stepped in, there are plenty of familiar faces including Haymitch (Harrelson), the alcoholic former winner who has become mentor to Peeta and Katniss; Effie (Banks), Caesar (Tucci) the smarmy host of the Games whose capped teeth can be seen from space and Cinna (Kravitz), the brilliant clothing designer who is largely responsible for Katniss’ popularity and image.

There are also new faces mostly the tributes for the Quarter Quell including the hunky Finnick (Claflin), his mentor Mags (Cohen), the brainy engineer Beetee (Wright) and the savant Wiress (Plummer), as well as the buttkicking Johanna (Malone) whose motivations remain unclear. The overall performance level has been raised significantly from the first film.

So too have the special effects. There is a sequence in which a kind of mandrill-like monkey clan attacks and it is done so smoothly and seamlessly that it doesn’t seem like CGI at all. The look of the film is pretty satisfying in every sense.

More importantly, there’s so much going on here than just a mere action tale or a romance. There are all sorts of underlying subtexts from the class warfare to the vapid fashion-obsessed culture to the role of mass media in shaping opinion. That’s the kind of thing that makes a critic’s heart beat faster – assuming they have the gumption to look more closely at the movie or its source material.

Lawrence has won an Oscar since the last time she played Katniss and her self-confidence from that clearly shows in Kat’s own growth. While Hemsworth is a fine actor, it’s Hutcherson who captured my attention and seemed to make a better foil for Ms. Everdeen. However, be warned that some of the romantic elements don’t have the same amount of complexity that the rest of the story has and so it seems aimed more squarely at juvenile hearts. Also it should be said that at times Katniss is of a participant in her own story and more of a reactant. For someone who is as supposedly kickass a warrior and strong in spirit she can come off as a self-pitying wimp in places. I don’t think it’s Ms. Lawrence’s fault so much as it is male writers who have problems writing strong female characters. I’d love to see a female screenwriter take a crack at the next one although I understand that’s fairly unlikely an occurrence.

Still, this is solid entertainment that is going to capture the imaginations of its young female core audience. Katniss is truly a heroine to be admired, much more so than Bella Swan. In every respect this is a superior franchise to that other one with a lead character who is much worthier of being a role model despite the occasional hiccups. I wasn’t sure if I cared about seeing a sequel after the first Hunger Games; after the second, I can’t wait for the third.

REASONS TO GO: Some fine performances and action sequences along with a solid storyline.

REASONS TO STAY: Stumbles over itself with occasional overkill and main character sometimes doesn’t seem true to her own traits.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action and violence, with a few frightening images, some suggestive situations, a couple of instances of bad language and overall thematic elements not for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the Capitol scenes were filmed at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel which also happens to be where Dragoncon, one of the Southeast’s premiere conventions, takes place.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Running Man

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Muscle Shoals

Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires)


Pretty girl, prettier boys.

Pretty girl, prettier boys.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (IFC) Monia Chokri, Nils Schneider, Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval, Anne-Elisabeth Bosse, Olivier Morin, Magalie Lepine-Blondeau, Eric Bruneau, Gabriel Lessard, Benedicte Decary, Anthony Huneault, Patricia Tulasne, Jody Hargreaves, Clara Palardy, Minou Petrowski, Perrette Souplex, Louis Garrel, Sophie Desmarais. Directed by Xavier Dolan

Love is tricky, particularly when friendship is involved. You feel one way towards your best friend and another towards someone you love. Once in awhile though you find yourself competing with your best friend for the love of someone and that makes perfect sense. When you think about it, if you have enough in common to be best friends, why not tastes in lovers?

That’s what happens to Marie (Chokri) and Francis (Dolan). He’s a gay man and she a straight woman. They share a Montreal apartment and well heck, just about everything. However when they meet Nicolas (Schneider) at a party, all bets are off. Marie falls for him deeply and Francis does as well. Both of them are reading things into Nicolas admittedly flirtatious gestures. Each one believes that Francis is more interested in them.

Things escalate as each of them vie for Nicolas’ attention and shower him with increasingly lavish gifts. Things culminate in a vacation at the cabin owned by Nicolas’ mom. Who will Nicolas choose?

This is a movie that isn’t always easy to take in. For one thing, Nicolas is a bit of a jerk. He is clearly manipulative and misleading the both of them, although for their parts they do a lot of seeing things the way they want to when it comes to him. This isn’t the kind of love story you’re used to seeing – these are very flawed people in not always nice ways.

There have been a pretty good number of promising French-Canadian directors that have come along in the last ten years and Dolan is one of the most talented of these. This isn’t my favorite of his films – it carries with it a little too much self-conscious hipness which I always find abhorrent. While I understand that hipsters are people too, I find their attitudes to be somewhat condescending at times and that kind of bugs me. Being cool generally means understanding that everyone has their own idea of what cool is and that may not necessarily be what you think it is.

In any case, the performances here are solid and the story well-written and realistic. While it has received a good amount of critical attention, it just didn’t connect with me. Fortunately, other Dolan films have and I’m pretty sure future films will.

WHY RENT THIS: Looks at the effects of a love triangle somewhat more realistically.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hipper than thou.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of sexuality with some nudity as well as some rough language and adult situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dolan supplies the voice of Stan in the French version of South Park.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $588,383 on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jules et Jim

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: U-571