Brigsby Bear


Luke Skywalker trains a young Jedi in the ways of children’s television programming.

(2017) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Christopher Sullivan, Alexa Demie, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Chris Provost, Claire Danes, Chance Crimin, Beck Bennett, Andy Samberg, Kate Lyn Shell, Kiera Milan Hendricks, Ellery Davidson, Ashlyn Brooke Anderson, Marilee Crockett. Directed by Dave McCary

 

We are a product of our upbringing and so much of what we experience as children makes us into the adults we become. Those of us who grew up with certain children’s television shows bear the marks of the lessons they taught us, even if we only got them subconsciously.

James (Mooney) has grown up in an unusual situation. He has been isolated by loving parents (Hamill, Adams) who have encouraged him to watch Brigsby Bear, a sci-fi television show in which the titular character fights alongside the Smiley Sisters against the nefarious Sunstealer. While the lessons are a little unorthodox, James is completely enchanted by the world of Brigsby Bear and has every episode on tape. That is, until his world comes crashing down on him.

He finds himself in a different situation with the knowledge that the world he previously inhabited was not what he was led to believe it was. Even his beloved Brigsby Bear was fake – the show didn’t exist. Alone, rudderless, without any sort of anchor, James remains obsessed with Brigsby Bear. He decides that he alone can finish the show properly and he endeavors to do just that.

There is a lot going on in this movie. Part of it is a commentary on the obsessive fandom that dominates our pop culture at present. Some of it is about the power of imagination to change one’s circumstances. Some of it is a pure nostalgia rush. All of it works.

Mooney, a current cast member on SNL, has an off-beat charm that allows the character of James to be childlike without descending into mawkishness. Mooney manages to surround himself with a terrific cast; Hamill is at his very best in a brief but important role and then there’s Kinnear who plays a sympathetic policeman. Kinnear is one of the very best actors working today especially when it comes to being likable onscreen. I think Hollywood takes him a bit for granted; he hasn’t gotten the role yet that will take him to the next level but he has the capability of getting there.

The bargain basement SFX may look a bit primitive to most viewers but they work in the context of the story. Some critics found that the movie descended into sweetness but I have to disagree; it needed that sweetness, otherwise it becomes just another cynical stab at fandom. I suspect that most critics don’t understand the whole concept behind fandom simply because critics are supposed to be objective. Fans are most assuredly not. Yes, there can be a negative side to obsessive fanboy-ism but there is also a positive side as well. There is nothing wrong with believing in something when there is so little to believe in these days.

This is one of my favorite films of the year. Not everyone will agree with me – it may be a little too out there for some. Others, like the critics I referred to, think it might be a little too light and sweet for their tastes. Me though, this works to perfection. It hits every emotional note dead on. This is one of three films that I think is the best of 2017. Whether it will finish first, second or third will likely depend on my mood when I go to assemble my list. If I’m thinking about this movie however, you can bet my mood will be getting better by the moment.

REASONS TO GO: This is one of those rare movies that hit all the right notes. Those who grew up with 80s children shows will certainly get the warm fuzzies. Mooney has a real offbeat charm. Kinnear is one of the most underrated actors working today.
REASONS TO STAY: Some may find it a little too obscure.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug usage and teen partying, brief sexuality and some fairly adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McCary is a writer on Saturday Night Live who is making his feature directing debut.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Death to Smoochy
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines


Ol' red eyes is back.

Ol’ red eyes is back.

(2003) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes, David Andrews, Mark Famiglietti, Earl Boen, Moira Harris, Chopper Bernet, Chris Lawford, Carolyn Hennesy, Jay Acovone, M.C. Gainey, Susan Merson, Elizabeth Morehead, Jimmy Snyder, Chris Hardwick, Brian Sites, Alana Curry, Rebecca Tilney, Helen Eigenberg. Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Poor John Connor. He survived an unstoppable relentless killing machine from the future, but could he survive a movie without director James Cameron or actress Linda Hamilton as his mother Sarah? At least for the third go-round in the franchise he had Arnold back.

This time around, Connor (Stahl) is fully grown and he’s a mess. A loner who never really got over the events of his past, he’s further shut himself out from society after the death of his mother. He lives on the streets, for the most part shunning the city where he was born, although he comes back from time to time — like for example when he has a motorcycle accident and needs to steal some drugs from a deserted veterinary hospital to help dull the pain and stop the terrible dreams of Judgment Day that continue to plague him, even though he and his mom, along with the Good Terminator, stopped the machine-driven Armageddon from occurring, right?

Unfortunately for Connor, wrong. Also unfortunately for Connor, the veterinary clinic isn’t quite deserted. Kate Brewster (Danes), the vet who runs the clinic, shows up unexpectedly to handle a pet emergency. So does the T-X (Loken), a cyborg from the future which wasn’t supposed to exist anymore. This one is supposedly even more lethal than the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and she looks like she’s going to have her way with the trapped Connor when who should bust in but Arnold the Terminator. From there on in, it’s non-stop action leading to a wickedly twisted ending.

T3 did decent box office, enough to warrant a T4. Its critical reception, even within the action film addicts community, was more chilly. I have a few basic problems with T3. For one thing, one of the main action movie bugaboos: too many coincidences. Kate Brewster happens to be an old crush who gave Connor his first kiss as a young lad, and is the daughter of the general who heads the Skynet project for the government? I mean, really.

Secondly, Loken, while gorgeous, doesn’t really project the air of invincibility Robert Patrick did in T2. You got the impression that the Sarah, John and Arnie were overmatched and could get wiped out at any time by the T-1000. Not so here. Although the new Terminatrix has some built-in weapons and the ability to remote-control any machine she interfaces with, one gets the feeling that Arnie could lay the smack-down on her without dropping his cigar if he had half a mind to. I didn’t buy the menace that Loken was selling, and it did affect how I viewed the movie.

My other problem is with the whole idea of a Terminator coming to assassinate Connor. He is far too accepting of another set of androids from the future, almost seeming to expect them. Shouldn’t he be trying to figure out how Judgment Day could be back on the clock even after he had ended any chance of it taking place?

To the good side, the writing is a cut above the average action fare, and the twist at the movie’s end is a stunner. In fact, a number of conventions of the Terminator universe are turned on their heads in this movie, including the issue of Connor’s survival. Arnold has the terminator thing down to a “T” and could play the part in his sleep (and essentially would in Terminator Salvation). You get the feeling he really enjoyed himself making this movie, although, of course, he remains fairly emotionless onscreen. At the time this was made, the Awesome Austrian was on a roll, delivering some surprisingly strong acting performances (The Sixth Day and End of Days) that while not entirely deflecting the naysayers who said that the soon-to-be Governator couldn’t act, at least making the din of that accusation a bit less loud.

Director Jonathan Mostow had some pretty impressive shoes to fill in Cameron’s absence, but he is given a good template from which to work, and acquits himself nicely. The action sequences are well done, and the byplay between Connor and the Terminator is snappy. The only quibble I have here is a lack of spectacle; T3 seems in places more like a TV movie than anything else, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad entertainment.

This would be his last starring role before embarking on the political career that would take him to the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento. There had been talk when this film was released that a fourth Terminator film would star Schwarzenegger and would continue directly where this one left off but those plans had to be scrapped. He has since announced that he would return to the role for a fifth Terminator film to be released in 2015 after appearing in Salvation through footage from the first Terminator.

While in nearly every way possible the third installment didn’t measure up to the first two films in the franchise, it is nonetheless entertaining enough to warrant a look and it is certainly much better than Salvation. This is essentially the role most associated with Schwarzenegger during his acting career, and the robot has always overshadowed the messianic John Conner figure in the imagination of the moviegoing audience. Our fascination with that character of the unstoppable robot has kept this franchise alive and active for well over 25 years. Not every movie franchise can say that, but as long as that fascination remains and they keep making Terminator movies as the Terminator himself might say, “Ah’ll be bahck.”

WHY RENT THIS: Arnold in his signature role. Stunning twist. Some nifty action sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: T-X not nearly as impressive as one would hope. Too many action movie cliches.

FAMILY MATTERS: A good deal of sci-fi action and violence, some foul language and brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Other than Schwarzenegger, the only actor to appear in the first three Terminator films is Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman. Boen has not appeared onscreen since, confining himself mainly to voice-over work.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The DVD came in a two-disc edition packed with promotional features along with a Gag Reel and an odd two minute scene that seems to explain why the Terminator has an accent. There are also some features on the making of the T3 video game and the action figures that the movie spawned.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $433.4M on a $200M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Think Like a Man

Stardust


Stardust

Danes and Cox are bemused by DeNiro's assertion that Martin Scorsese taught him how to waltz.

(Paramount) Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Peter O’Toole, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Henry Cavill, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, Kate Magowan, Ian McKellan (voice), Nathaniel Parker, David Kelly. Directed by Matthew Vaughn.

This arrives to us from the mind of Neil Gaiman, one of the most respected names in the Graphic Novel field today. The man who gave us such works as Sandman, Death: The High Cost of Living and Coraline also gave us this, his version of high fantasy.

The village of Wall in England is so-named because of a long wall running along the edge of the town. It seems like an ordinary wall, with a breach in it where the stones have collapsed over the year – it’s a very old wall, after all – with the town on one side and pleasant fields on the other. However, persistent town legend has it that crossing through the wall takes you to a place not known to man. The legend is so widespread that the town actually has a guard posted 24-7 at the breach, although few in Wall are so addled as to wish to see what lies on the other side.

One night, a young man does so and meets a girl, a beautiful girl who says she is a princess being held captive by a witch. The young man and the girl do what comes naturally to young men and girls and nine months later, the young man has a special delivery from the wall guard – a baby, who the young man is charged with raising.

Years later – 18 of them, to be exact – the baby has grown into a young man himself, a shop boy named Tristan (Cox). He is deeply besotted by Victoria (Miller), a town beauty who is very rich and being wooed by equally rich (and equally shallow) Humphrey (Cavill). However, she finds a soft spot for the lovestruck Tristan and agrees to go on a late night picnic with him. Tristan is devastated by the news that Humphrey has gone to Ipswich to buy an engagement ring which he intends to present to Victoria at her birthday party a week hence. She intends to say yes to Humphrey.

Just then they are interrupted by the descent of a falling star. In a moment of romantic passion, Tristan promises to retrieve the star for Victoria. She agrees if Tristan can do this, she will be his. In the meantime, the star has landed and it’s not a piece of rock or a chunk of metal. It is, in fact, a beautiful girl (Danes) who goes by the name of Yvaine. Her arrival has signaled a time of great changes in the land – not England, for the Wall is in fact a magic dividing point that separates the land of reason (England) from the land of magic (Stormhold). The King of Stormhold (O’Toole) is dying, and as is customary in that autocratic land, the crown princes are murdering one other in order to be the last prince standing in line for the throne.  It turns out that since four…er,  three princes remain and the King doesn’t have time to wait for the others to go about finishing the others off, he sets a challenge – the prince who can retrieve an amulet and restore the color to the ruby within it will be King. The trouble is that the ruby is around the neck of Yvaine.

There is also a wicked witch named Lamia (Pfeiffer) who knows that the heart of the star bestows youth and beauty on those who know how to use it. For her and her sisters, it is absolutely vital that they retrieve this star since their last one is almost gone and the old girls are beginning to show their age.

Everybody is after the star, but it is Tristan who finds her first. He promises to help her return home to the heavens once he’s presented her to his true love, so Yvaine – who doesn’t like this overly earnest and awkward young man – begrudgingly agrees. This sets in motion a series of perils, pirates (led by the able Captain Shakespeare, played with panache by De Niro) and all manner of really bad people.

This is a movie of charm and wit. There are some great moments and a few real good laughs, but there are some moments of poignancy and real insight as well. Director Vaughn, best-known for Layer Cake, balances all of the elements very nicely. Yes, it’s definitely a fantasy but there isn’t an over-reliance on special effects. Sure, there are some breathtaking moments like the Sky Pirate Ship landing on the water, or a duel between Tristan and Lamia, but the appeal here is in a lovely simple story and some solid acting.

Cox is very likable in his role, and De Niro is obviously having a good time in his role as the pirate captain with a reputation to uphold, but it is Pfeiffer who in all ways is the real reason to go see this movie. She makes a really terrific villain (as those who’ve seen her in Hairspray can attest) and isn’t afraid to have a ton of make-up and prosthetics applied to artificially age her, despite being one of the most beautiful women in the world (still). She plays the part with supreme self-confidence and unleashes one of her best performances in years. It’s a surprisingly demanding role and one critical to the movie’s success, but Pfeiffer pulls it off admirably. This may not be necessarily Oscar material, but it’s the kind of work that gets the kind of work that a good actress wants to do for her.

I was enchanted with Stardust from the very first moment when McKellan’s stentorian narration begins. The world here is richly detailed, which is I think one of the great selling points to most fantasy readers, in the same way that Tolkein’s Middle-Earth is, or Lewis’ Narnia. Stormhold is a world that is lived in and watching this you naturally want to live in it too. I highly recommend Stardust for anyone who loves fantasy movies, fairy tales, adventure stories or romances – and especially for those who love all of the above.

WHY RENT THIS: Charming and witty. Lovely performances, particularly from Pfeiffer. A fully realized fantasy world that you want to live in.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Drags a bit in the middle. Some of the plot points are a bit worn thin.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some minor violence and sexuality but nothing not suitable for kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Captain Shakespeare’s vessel, the Caspartine, is named after director Matthew Vaughn’s two children, Caspar and Clementine.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Daredevil

New Releases for the Week of December 18, 2009


Avatar

Exotic lifeforms abound in the world of Pandora as envisioned by James Cameron.

AVATAR

(20th Century Fox) Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi. Directed by James CameronIt’s here at last, the most anticipated movie of 2009 and if early reports are correct, this could be a game-changer for the way movies are made. Director Cameron, in his first non-documentary feature since Titanic, creates the world of Pandora from the ground up; it involves a conspiracy by humans to grab an extremely rare element from the ground beneath a peaceful indigenous tribe. They send in a wounded marine in the form of an avatar, an artificially grown lifeform with the DNA of both human and Na’vi (said indigenous lifeform) with the marine’s consciousness imprinted on the avatar. However, the perfect plan goes awry when the marine begins to suspect that the humans aren’t necessarily the good guys.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking)

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

(Columbia) Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen. A sophisticated New York couple on the verge of splitting apart witness a murder and are whisked away into the Federal Witness Protection Program with a contract killer on their tails. Unfortunately, their new home in rural Wyoming seems to only be exacerbating their marital issues. Will these citified fish in country waters adjust to their surroundings, rekindle their relationship and avoid getting shot?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and momentary violence)

Me and Orson Welles

(Freestyle) Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Ben Chaplin. The latest from indie director Richard Linklater is based on a novel by Robert Kaplow. It’s a coming of age tale about a young actor who lucks into a role of a 1937 New York stage production of Julius Caesar directed by none other than Orson Welles.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references and smoking)