Yellow (2012)


Beware of yellow in the pool.

Beware of yellow in the pool.

(2012) Dramedy (Medient) Heather Wahlquist, Melanie Griffith, Sienna Miller, Gena Rowlands, Lucy Punch, Ray Liotta, David Morse, Max Thieriot, Daviegh Chase, Riley Keough, Brendan Sexton, Ethan Suplee, Elizabeth Daily, Cassandra Jean, Onata Aprile, Gary Stretch, Nancy De Mayo, Malea Richardson, Bella Dayne, Tonya Cornelisse. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Florida Film Festival 2014

There are those of us who live mainly in our heads. What must that be like if they are constantly bombed out of their skulls on drugs and alcohol?

Mary Holmes (Wahlquist) is a substitute teacher who fits that description. She brings her yellow painkillers and bottles of alcohol to school with her. Some of the teachers at the school think of her as the school bicycle – everybody’s had a ride. When one of the parents partake of her pleasures, she loses her job.

Mary copes with an often harsh reality by escaping into fantasy. School meetings turn into opera; a bike ride in the neighborhood becomes a psychedelic animation. She talks with her non-existent children, all of whom were aborted. When she goes home to Oklahoma to lick her wounds, her family is perhaps more eccentric than she – a hyper-religious grandmother (Rowlands), a sister (Punch) who is mentally ill and a mother (Griffith) who is as far away from reality as Mary herself.

Nick Cassavetes is a talented and promising director. His father John was known as one of the founders of independent cinema and was a tremendous actor and director in his own right. In many ways, this film hearkens back to the freak-out cinema of his father’s era.

I’ve been deliberately vague about the plot. I think the movie works best when you don’t know so much about what’s coming. Some of the movie’s best moments come out of left field so I’ve left the plot description short and, hopefully, sweet.

David Morse, who plays Holmes’ therapist, is always a welcome addition to any cast. You will quickly realize the truth about his character if you’re reasonably observant and maybe have seen a movie or two. Melanie Griffith looks as good as she has in years, and this is one of her best roles ever. She is manic when she needs to be, nurturing at least on the surface and carries the wounds of a sordid past deep in her eyes. It’s a terrific role, particularly as the movie begins to divulge details about Mary’s past.

There are times that it is difficult to distinguish between Mary’s active fantasy life and reality. There is one point where the film violates its own internal logic and that has to do with Mary’s bitchy older sister Xanne and Mary’s illusory children. That’s a big no-no, but it only happens once thankfully.

The effects are pretty nifty (considering the minuscule budget the movie surely had) and the cast is impressive as well, again considering the budget. The movie looks awfully good. My issue with it is that the characters are just so damned unlikable. Nearly everyone in the movie has some sort of mental or emotional instability to varying degrees, enough so that I felt like I needed a shower after the screening was done.

Yellow was actually made in 2012 and is only getting to the festival circuit now. There hasn’t been a great deal of press on the movie thus far, at least that I could find, but nearly all of it has been highly laudatory. That should tell you something. Critics have a tendency to like films that are different. For most audiences, this is going to be a bit of a stretch. The movie didn’t connect with me personally and I found most of the characters to be repellant. There wasn’t anyone I could really latch onto and identify with which makes it difficult to engage with the film. Some of you out there won’t have that issue and will find this imaginative and innovative. I have no argument with that. However, I don’t believe that most audiences will feel the same. If you like things out there, a bit different and a bit edgy, you’ll be in heaven. Most audiences will find this bleak, confusing and too cerebral. Me, I found it to be a movie whose aims I respected but the execution for which I found unsatisfying.

REASONS TO GO: Imaginative. Some of the sequences are funnier than frack.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too out there for most.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s drug use – lots and lots of drug use – and plenty of foul language with some sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wahlquist, who co-wrote the screenplay, is Cassavetes’ wife and of course Rowlands is the director’s mother.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Blue Ruin

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One Day


One Day

Jim Sturgess finds that when he closes his eyes he really can't find Anne Hathaway's mouth.

(2011) Romance (Focus) Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Romola Garai, Rafe Spall, Jodie Whittaker, Tom Mison, Heida Reed, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Georgia King, Emelia Jones. Directed by Lone Scherfig

Our lives are a series of 24 hour periods, stretching from birth to death. Taken as a whole, they form our life. Individually they may not have the same meaning, but it only takes a single day to change our lives forever.

Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) meet on July 15, 1988 – the date of their college graduation in Edinburgh. They hit it off and almost have sex but it doesn’t quite work out so they decide to stay friends. Their friendship takes them through diverging paths in life; Dexter becomes a TV presenter whose mother (Clarkson) is ill and whose father (Stott) can’t stand him. Emma’s bright-eyed idealism gives way to world-weary cynicism as she gets stuck in a job she can’t stand. Emma and Dexter drift further apart as she struggles to find herself and he becomes lost in stardom.

They seem to be moving on into different relationships; Emma with Ian (Spall), a failed stand-up comic and Dexter with Sylvie (Garai), with whom he has a daughter Jasmine (Jones). Emma’s career begins to take off as a teacher; Dexter’s declines after a series of woeful teen countdown programs in which his growing addiction to alcohol and drugs begins to affect his work, while his age begins to slam doors in his face.

Soon it becomes evident to both of them that they are far better together than they are separately – the sum greater than the parts. Has too much water flown beneath the bridge for them ever to get together?

This is based on a book by David Nicholls (who also wrote the screenplay) and is directed by Scherfig, the Swedish director who in 2009 won acclaim for his movie An Education. This is a disappointment of a movie; one which has two of the most appealing actors in Hollywood and squanders them. It’s quite a shame too; if this had been executed better it might have been a solid movie.

The problem with the movie is the problem that comes from the novel it’s based on – the two main characters spend nearly the entire movie apart. The whole conceit of the movie is that we are encountering the two main characters on July 15th every year (or in some cases every second year) from the day they first meet. Because we don’t see the characters together as much, there is no time for them to develop chemistry together.

One gets the feeling that Hathaway has moved on from roles like this. She has Oscar-caliber talent, evidenced in movies like Love and Other Drugs. Emma is not a role really suited for her. For one thing it forces her to adopt both a Scottish and a Yorkshire accent, which drifts during the course of the movie. It never sounds convincing to my ear; quite frankly I think the movie would have been better served to have cast a British actress in the role (and there are a lot of good ones).

Sturgess has to play an absolute rotter at times and he pulls it off; his disarming grin and boyish good looks aiding him in his portrayal. I hope he continues to get romantic leads because he is uncommonly good at them. Clarkson, like Hathaway, is a very fine actress who again is saddled with an unconvincing British accent. She’s a fine actress but couldn’t she and Hathaway just have been re-written to be Americans? Or have British actresses cast in those roles?

A bit of a spoiler follows here although to any sensible moviegoer it won’t come as much of a surprise. One of the central moments of the movie is the moment when Emma decides that her feelings for Dexter are stronger than she admitted they were and that she truly loves him and needs him. It’s a moment that comes off abrupt and schmaltzy, going from “We’re friends and I don’t have any interest in you romantically in the least” to “You’re the love of my life” in a matter of moments. It’s like a car with bad brakes trying to stop on a dime.

Curiously, the movie gets better in a lot of ways from there, even if it descends into general romantic grab a box of Kleenex territory. Once Hathaway and Sturgess get more time together, the movie really elevates. It’s too bad for most of the first hour or so they’re too busy denying their feelings and saying to all and sundry that they’re just friends. Too much time hitting us over the head with the idea that they’re better together than apart – and then they don’t have enough time together to seal the deal. You never fully get the sense that there’s chemistry between the two.

I really wanted to like this movie because it has not only two of my favorite actors in it but also a director who has an exciting future ahead of him and a high-concept way of looking at a 20-year-romance. It should have come together but unfortunately for a variety of reasons it didn’t. All the beautiful Scottish scenery and longing wistful looks from a pair of attractive actors can’t save a movie from its own shortcomings.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful scenery of Edinburgh and the north of England looks beautiful onscreen.

REASONS TO STAY: Never get a sense that the couple is actually good for each other. Relationship moves abruptly, a very jarring feeling for the audience.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and a bit of nudity. There’s also a bit of violence, and a smattering of bad language. There is also some depiction of substance abuse, drugs and alcohol.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to set the mood for the skinny dipping scene, Hathaway mooned Sturgess, unaware that there was an apartment complex behind her with many of the residents filming the shoot with mobile phone cams. To date, the footage hasn’t surfaced on the Internet which Hathaway has expressed gratitude to the complex residents whom she expressed had “class”.

HOME OR THEATER: A definite cuddling on the couch movie.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Takers

Get Him to the Greek


Get Him to the Greek

Fear the Diddy.

(Universal)  Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Sean Combs, Rose Byrne, Elisabeth Moss, Colm Meaney, Aziz Ansari, Dinah Stabb, Carla Gallo, Kristin Bell, Meredith Vieira, Rick Schroeder, Stephanie Faracy, Lino Facioli, Kurt Loder. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

At one time or another we all dream of being a rock star. Who wouldn’t want to live a life of excess, adored by millions and rich enough that we can afford to indulge our every whim?

Aldous Snow (Brand) has been living that dream for 20 years, but like the rest of the music business, his career is in jeopardy. A spectacular fall from sobriety after an ill-advised album painted the very white British rock star as an “African Child” (don’t ask) has left him on shaky ground, his professional and personal life in tatters. That’s because his girlfriend and baby momma Jackie Q (Byrne) has flown the coop and has taken up with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

Pinnacle Records chief Sergio Roma (Combs) doesn’t care about any of that. He just knows his six kids need new Nikes and the record label is hemorrhaging money. He needs a great idea and fast. Surprisingly, that idea comes from Aaron Green (Hill), a lowly underling on the label publicity staff. It seems that it is the 20th anniversary of Snow’s epic Greek Theater concert that would lead to one of the biggest selling live albums in history. If the present isn’t yielding a lot of great artists, why not mine the past?

Sergio tasks Aaron with bringing Aldous from London to a Today show appearance in New York and then across the country to Los Angeles for the concert itself. Aaron, a bona fide music nerd (I can totally relate), is overjoyed. Infant Sorrow (Aldous’ band) is one of his all-time favorites. The only cloud on the horizon is that Daphne (Moss), his medical intern girlfriend, is thinking seriously of taking a job in Seattle, far from Aaron’s record label dreams.

Snow proves to be quite the handful. Evidently his fall from grace has become a spectacular drop into sheer debauchery. Aldous is more interested in banging every bird he lays eyes on, indulging in every drug that he can get his hands on and drinking every bar in London dry. Aaron, not especially a straight arrow but certainly not used to partying on the epic scale that Aldous does, panics as the time for the flight to New York comes and goes, as it does for each succeeding airline booking that he makes.

They finally get to the Today show studios, a scant 15 minutes before Aldous is supposed to be there. By now Aaron has been sucked into the rock star’s world and it is chewing him up and spitting him out. It doesn’t help matters that Aaron’s cell phone is constantly ringing with an enraged Sergio on the line demanding that Aaron take control of a situation that simply cannot be controlled by anyone. How’s that rock star fantasy looking now?

This is a spin-off from the hit comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Stoller also directed that movie and the titular character makes a cameo appearance here). Brand nearly stole it as the sober yet completely bullcrap-engorged rock star that he plays here as a drunken yet complete bullcrap-engorged rock star. Hill was also in that movie in a different role but one that had one thing in common with Aaron Green – they both worship Aldous Snow.

This isn’t nearly as funny as FSM although it has its moments. Hill and Brand, both of whom have been second bananas in lots of movies, both show they can carry one on their own. Combs, the artist formerly known as P. Diddy, Puff Daddy and quite possibly Prince, is outstanding as the Type A mogul with impulse control issues. The role reminds me a little bit of Tom Cruise’s part as studio boss Les Grossman in that both are over-the-top portrayals that work really well.

The music is pretty good here too; the songs written for Aldous Snow have a bit of an Oasis quality to them and indeed Brand’s vocals are not unlike Noel Gallagher’s, particularly on “Furry Walls” (sung during the movie’s conclusion).

The movie is meant to take the rock star lifestyle to excess, which is hard to do in and of itself. There are a buttload of female breasts (and male butts too), an enormous load of drinking staggering amounts of alcohol, a terrifying intake of drugs and more vomiting from Jonah Hill than I ever want to see again.

This isn’t a movie that is breaking any new ground. It’s funny enough to be entertaining, but certainly not the ride that The Hangover or Superbad are. It’s just a decently funny movie with a surprising heart of gold at its center that you will find easy to get at once you clean off all the vomit.

REASONS TO GO: Hill is a great straight man and Brand is zany enough to be watchable for the whole movie. The soundtrack is surprisingly good.

REASONS TO STAY: Not in the laugh-a-minute category. Most of the plot action is pretty much outrageous for its own sake.

FAMILY VALUES: Sex and drugs and rock and roll. What more do I need to say?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The band Bob and the Yeoman on the Greek Theater marquee is a reference to Director of Photography Robert Yeoman.

HOME OR THEATER: Nothing epic here. Unless you really have to see it right away, it’s perfectly fine to wait for the home video release.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Lakeview Terrace

Shutter Island


Shutter Island

Ruffalo and di Caprio have wandered from a Scorsese movie into an episode of Tales from the Crypt.

(Paramount) Leonardo di Caprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow, John Carroll Lynch, Jackie Earle Haley, Elias Koteas, Emily Mortimer, Ted Levine, Robin Bartlett. Directed by Martin Scorsese

Reality is a very subjective thing. We often see things as we want to see them and not as they truly are. That’s true of all of us to a certain extent, but every one of us usually does that only to a certain extent. When we can’t get past our own self-delusions, we are walking the fine line between sanity and insanity.

United States Marshals Teddy Daniels (Di Caprio) and Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) are on what seems to be a routine assignment. A dangerous prisoner, one Rachel Salondo has disappeared from her cell at the Ashecliffe Mental Hospital on Shutter Island, one of the Harbour Islands just off the coast of Boston. Their ferry emerges from the fog and approaches Shutter Island like an earlier freighter approached Skull Island, with palpable menace exuding from every crevice on the island.

They are met at the dock by Deputy Warden McPherson (Lynch) who relieves the marshals of their firearms, which the marshals submit to reluctantly. He escorts them to the main building where they are met by Dr. Cawley (Kingsley), the chief psychiatrist of the facility. Here are the most dangerous lunatics in the Commonwealth, who are so violent that no other hospital can handle them. It is said that there are asylums that have been decommissioned where the horrors of the past seem to live on; you can feel the decades of suffering in the very bricks of the building. Ashecliffe is a lot like that.

It is 1954 and the patients are probably better off in there, safe from the concerns of atom bombs and HUAC witch hunts. Teddy himself is haunted; as a soldier during the War, he helped liberate Dachau and the horrors he witnessed there have driven him to drink. Even worse, his beloved wife Dolores (Williams) died in a fire a few years back.

Teddy realizes early on that the staff is being far from co-operative but he has an agenda of his own. He is looking for a man named Andrew Laeddis (Koteas) who was the man who set the fire that ended his wife’s life. Teddy had followed Laeddis’ trail to the hospital where it disappeared.

From here Teddy realizes that something far more sinister is going on at Shutter Island. A hurricane has further isolated the island and the answers Teddy is looking for are as elusive as driftwood on the tide. To find them, he is going to have to dig deeper; and once he does, he might not like what he finds.

This movie is a serious mindf**k. It is unlike anything Scorsese has done before. There are elements of Hitchcock and film noir in the movie, and certainly turns of gothic horror. I wouldn’t have been overly surprised if Barnabas Collins had stepped out of the shadows of Ward C, where the most dangerous offenders are kept and where Teddy has to go to find Laeddis.

Di Caprio is at his best here, playing the tormented Teddy with grit and just a hint of madness. Teddy is our proxy in the movie and we see the events through his eyes, and Di Caprio makes sure those eyes are wide open and staring. He keeps us off-balance enough to make us susceptible to the twists and turns of the script which is based on a Dennis Lehane novel.

This is a fine cast and Scorsese gets great performances out of nearly all of them. Kingsley does quiet menace like nobody else in the business, and can seem sinister with a dismissive gesture. Von Sydow has a brief but memorable turn as a doctor who may have at one time worked for the Nazis. His verbal sparring session with Teddy is one of the better scenes in the movie.

There are some disturbing images here, and a good deal of male nudity. There is also a score from former member of The Band (and subject of Scorsese’s documentary The Last Waltz) Robbie Robertson that I think was meant to further put us off-balance but sadly doesn’t succeed; it comes off as intrusive and annoying. I think a subtler approach might have worked better.

I have to admit that some of the scenes here are really tough to watch on an emotional level, but I really don’t want to get into much more detail than that. In fact, the less I tell you about the movie the better you’ll be able to enjoy it. That allows you to experience the full effect of Scorsese’s first venture into the psychological thriller territory that Hitchcock once owned.

This won’t go down as one of Scorsese’s better efforts, although ironically it might wind up being his most profitable. The final scenes are ambiguous and meant to be that way. Some critics have assaulted the ending, but I think its part of Scorsese’s plan to let you draw your own conclusions as to the nature of Teddy’s reality. Certainly it will have you questioning your own perceptions as you leave the theater and that’s pretty impressive on its own.

REASONS TO GO: This movie plays with your head long after the credits roll. Di Caprio does some of the best work of his career. Scorsese conjures up a real air of foreboding.  

REASONS TO STAY: The music was intrusive rather than supporting the overall mood. The building up of Andrew Laeddis as the most dangerous man in the facility doesn’t quite work.

FAMILY VALUES: Oh my God no. Dear God…what are you thinking? Kids? Shutter Island? NO! Seriously!  NO!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ted Levine and Patricia Clarkson starred in the short-lived TV series “Wonderland,” which was also set in a mental institution.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a movie that should be witnessed in the dark, preferably without a huge crowd. Home viewing would be more suitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Valentine’s Day