My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea


A wonderland of turgid prose.

(2016) Animated Feature (GKIDS) Starring the voices of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Susan Sarandon, Thomas Jay Ryan, Alex Karpovsky, Louisa Krause, John Cameron Mitchell, Matthew Maher, Emily Davis. Directed by Dash Shaw

When an animated feature starts off with a warning that the movie features stroboscopic effects that may negatively affect people with photosensitive epilepsy, one isn’t sure to take it seriously or as the movie’s first joke. Not for nothing; take it seriously.

This is one of the most imaginative and self-consciously hip animated features to come along in quite awhile. It feels like an online comic strip come to life which is no coincidence since Shaw is a noted online comic artist whose Bottomless Belly Button has won a good deal of online acclaim. The dialogue is snappy with a bored but snarky sensitivity that falls in perfectly with the millennial milieu and I would guess that most people who love online comics are going to do cartwheels when they see this. Virtual cartwheels, anyway.

The plot is basically The Poseidon Adventure on acid; two good friends, Dash (Schwartzman) and Aasif (Watts) are starting their sophomore years at Tides High. They both work for the student newspaper – well, they essentially are the student newspaper along with their editor Verti (Rudolph) whose name is an off-shoot of the Latin word for truth (see, I did learn something in high school). When she develops a crush on Aasif and hands him the plum assignment that Dash wanted, it drives a wedge between the two which is further widened by Dash’s borderline libelous newspaper column about his ex-friend.

However, all that gets swept aside when Dash discovers paperwork that indicates the school’s foundations aren’t up to code and wouldn’t stand up in a natural disaster. Dash tries to tell everyone what’s going on but Principle Grimm (Ryan) shuts him down and nobody believes Dash anyway. Of course, right about then an earthquake knocks the entire high school off the cliff it sits on and into the ocean where it promptly begins to sink.

Dash and Aasif patch things up and along with Verti and Mary (Dunham), a popular girl who turns out to have a heart underneath her shallow exterior as well as Lunch Lady Lorraine (Sarandon), a no-nonsense military sort who has maintained her military skills, are forced to make their way up through the Junior floor and then to the Senior floor before graduating to the roof if they are to survive. They will have to take on Jellyfish attacks, shark attacks, a kangaroo court of jocks, electrical wires and school bus blockages in order to get there.

Shaw uses a variety of techniques, often hand drawn, throughout the film although he generally uses the sort of heavy black markers with crayon-like colors. The movie comes off as a disaster movie produced by Adult Swim animators and written by twenty-something online writers. There’s no doubt what kind of audience this is aimed at and it’s not the underage kind; there are some pretty nasty moments in the film that parents may not want their kids to deal with quite yet.

Shaw has been friends with Schwartzman for years which helped him get the kind of talent he managed to get for the film which include a few cultural touchstones for the Millennial generation, including Dunham, Mitchell and of course Schwartzman himself. Sarandon does a gravelly voiced job as Lunch Lady Lorraine and was one of my favorite characters in the movie.Parents of angst-suffused teenage children may get a vicarious thrill of watching so many teens offed during the course of the film. I know I did.

There is a psychedelic sequence near the end of the movie which I suppose is an attempt to 2001 the hell out of the movie but it runs much too long and slows the momentum of a movie that is already short and sweet. A scant 75 minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome other than the aforementioned sequence.

I get that not everybody is going to love this film; it appeals to a younger, more savvy audience that is much more aware of current pop culture. As a result, the film might end up being dated even a few years from now but there is enough humor in it that it might stand on its own two feet as a legacy. Still, this is worth seeking out particularly as I mentioned earlier if you love online comics. It might just rock your world, if that phrase isn’t out of date yet.

REASONS TO GO: There is a good deal of allegory in the film which may lead to some interesting discussions among audience members. It’s sort of a modern “Boy Who Cried Wolf.”
REASONS TO STAY: This may be a bit too surreal for some and the psychedelic sequence is way too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of teen peril, some drug use and a few sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shaw got his start doing online comic books and discovered he could animate the films using Photoshop and the same tools he used to create his online comics; in fact, this film was originally intended to be an online comic.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Daria
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Belko Experiment

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A Very Murray Christmas


More fun to make than it is to watch?

More fun to make than it is to watch?

(2015) Musical (Netflix) Bill Murray, Paul Shaffer, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock, Michael Cera, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, Maya Rudolph, Jenny Lewis, Amy Poehler, David Johansen, Dmitri Dimitrov, Julie White, Phoenix. Directed by Sofia Coppola

Back in the day, celebs like Dean Martin and Judy Garland used to put on Christmas specials and variety shows that would have the thinnest of plot lines but were mainly an excuse for them to sing a few Christmas tunes, have a few friends show up and generally just be themselves.

Director Sofia Coppola is trying to resurrect that vibe and has picked the perfect guy to do it; Murray plays a version of himself, contracted to do a live Christmas special at the Hotel Carlyle in New York City with its retro-cool Bemelmans’s Bar and Cafe Carlyle. An impressive guest list and audience however has evaporated as the city is paralyzed by a blizzard. Sensing catastrophe, Murray sinks into a booze-fueled depression as Hollywood handler-types (Poehler, White) and wanna-be agents (Cera) beset his Christmas mellow.

Guests happen by (Rock) or turn up as hotel employees (Lewis as a waitress, who has one of the better songs when she covers the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, the band Phoenix whose frontman is married to Coppola, as a group of singing chefs) and musical numbers ensue. Murray captures the barfly/hipster mode nicely and sings adequately, but this is the type of Christmas show you’ll want to watch with a shaker full of martinis, a bowlful of peanuts and a pack of cigarettes.

Murray is a genial host but not in the tradition of a Dean Martin, a Mel Tormé or a Steve and Edie. Yes, he’s got that same rumpled charm that Dino had, but there is a weather-beaten feel to him, like someone who’s been too far and seen too much. The show opens with a bluesy downbeat Christmas song that sets the tone; world-weary Murray feeling the depression that often accompanies the Holidays. Essentially confined to the hotel by the weather and prowling the hallways like a claustrophobic cat, he hangs out in the bar and drinks away his sorrow, interacting with a bride (Jones) and groom (Schwartzman) whose wedding fell apart and whose relationship may be as well and listening to a lounge singer (Rudolph) belt out a few Christmas tunes.

Much of the action takes place in the hotel, other than a fantasy sequence featuring Clooney and Cyrus that takes place after Murray passes out. This is the kind of Christmas special for the crowd that identifies strongly with Mickey Rourke in Barfly or Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. And yet, there is a hipness to it, like Murray has us in on the coolest night in that crazy New York town ever, a place where Chris Rock might just stumble in from out of the cold and warble a duet of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with Murray.

So this isn’t for everybody, needless to say. Some will find it too irreverent and even take insult – those who think there’s a war on Christmas might see this as yet another salvo (it’s not). I think it’s far more subversive, taking a pot shot at our attitudes towards the holiday and snickering at it, reminding us at once that there are those who are lonely and depressed at this time of year, but also reminding us that the holidays can take a bunch of strangers and make them family, even if just for one night. In that sense, A Very Murray Christmas is suffused with holiday magic. I don’t know that this would bear repeated viewings but I suspect that those who revel in this sort of thing will make it an annual tradition. As for me, I’ll take A Charlie Brown Christmas every time.

REASONS TO GO: Hippest Christmas special ever. Murray is always a hoot.
REASONS TO STAY: Might be overly irreverent for some. A bit heavy on the quirk.
FAMILY VALUES: Some profanity, adult themes, drinking and general attitude.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bill Murray doesn’t have Netflix and refuses to get it, which means he won’t be able to watch his own movie – not that he does that anyway.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/11/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scrooged
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Children of Men

New Releases for the Week of July 3, 2015


Terminator GenisysTERMINATOR: GENISYS

(Paramount) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance. Directed by Alan Taylor

We’ve seen this one before; human resistance leader John Connor discovers that Skynet has sent a terminator cyborg back in time to kill his mother. He needs someone to protect her and brave Kyle Reese volunteers. Except when he gets back in time, things are a lot different than what John Connor remembered – and Sarah Connor is a whole lot tougher than John ever knew. She has a plan to keep Judgment Day from happening, but Skynet is going all out to ensure that it does.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website .
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language)

Aloft

(Sony Classics) Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Melanie Laurent, Oona Chaplin. A woman abandons her son; he seeks answers, cutting himself off from feeling anything in order to bear the weight of a crushing tragedy. A woman who is obsessed with curing herself leaves everything she knows behind in a desperate attempt to follow her dream. All three will meet where past and present merge in an exciting film set in the mysterious and beautiful Arctic.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and some sensuality)

Faith of Our Fathers

(Goldwyn/Pure Flix) Kevin Downes, David A.R. White, Stephen Baldwin, Candace Cameron Bure. As the Vietnam War is at its height, two new fathers report for duty – one a cynic, the other devout. They send to their new sons letters hand-written from in country. Years later their sons – now grown men – make a pilgrimage to the Vietnam War monument in Washington DC. They will meet as strangers but they will share a common bond – loving fathers whose bonds cannot be shattered by the chaos of war.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, AMC West Oaks, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements)

Magic Mike XXL

(Warner Brothers) Channing Tatum, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks. Three years after Magic Mike, the legendary headliner of the Kings of Tampa hung up his g-string for good, the troupe is ready to call it a day. However, they want one last blow-out at a festival in Myrtle Beach and they convince Mike to dance one last time. On a road trip with stops in Jacksonville and Savannah, the boys will learn that it takes more than moves to be legendary.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use)

The Overnight

(The Orchard) Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godreche. Newly arrived in Los Angeles, a young couple with their young son know nobody in the trendy Silver Lake district. A chance meeting at a birthday party gets them invited to a pizza dinner with the young son who their own son has become fast friends with and his sophisticated parents. Once the kids are put to bed, things get very, very strange very, very fast. Not only has this been getting a huge buzz but this was one of the more acclaimed films at the recent Florida Film Festival and you can read my review of the movie here.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sex Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for sexuality/nudity and language)

The Overnight


Peep show.

Peep show.

(2015) Sex Comedy (The Orchard) Jason Schwartzman, Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godreche, Max Moritt, R.J. Hermes, Kyle Field, Sarah DeVincentis. Directed by Patrick Brice

Florida Film Festival 2015

Moving to a new city can be a daunting experience, particularly when you don’t know anyone there. We all need a social outlet and finding one in a new place can be something of a priority.

That’s the situation that Alex (Scott) and Emily (Schilling) find themselves in when they relocate from Seattle to the trendy Silver Lake section of L.A. She’s the breadwinner and he works from home and watches their young son R.J. (Hermes). He needs some adult conversation. While at a party for another kid, R.J. hits it off with Max (Moritt). Max’s dad, Kurt (Schwartzman) comes on a little strong at first but he seems to think that the two of them should be friends with he and his wife Charlotte (Godreche). He invites them over for a casual pizza dinner and some playtime for the kids. Alex and Emily readily agree.

It turns out that Kurt has quite the McMansion, more or less tastefully furnished. Everything starts out pretty mellow with plenty of pizza and wine, with Kurt turning out to have a pretty natural rapport with kids. It’s after the kids go to bed that things start to get weird. Turns out that Kurt, who fancies himself something of a renaissance man, has a talent for painting anuses. No, you read that right. He’s got dozens of paintings of bungholes (mostly Charlotte’s) in his studio.

And as Emily discovers, Charlotte is quite the free spirit. She dabbles in massage, but not the kind you find in your local spa – the kind with happy endings, as Emily is shocked to discover. While Emily and Alex aren’t necessarily prudes, they’re both a little bit on the uptight side. Alex is fairly sensitive about the size of his junk, and is especially intimidated when he discovers that in addition to everything else, Kurt is also hung like a horse.

Still with enough pot and champagne swimming in their bloodstreams, Emily and Alex are able to let loose a bit. Then a bit more. And then things get really strange.

Sex comedies have a tendency these days to be focused on horny teens trying to get laid (generally for the first time) so it’s kind of refreshing to have a sex comedy aimed for adults with adult sensibilities.  Writer/director Brice does get a bit into Apatow territory when he goes the penis size route but that’s really not the bulk of the material here. There’s a fish out of water element – the newcomers in hedonistic L.A. – but mainly this is a romp between the sheets.

What works here is the chemistry between the leads. In particular, Schwartzman does some of the best work of his career as the somewhat pompous and out there Kurt who is basically a decent guy who has kind of bought into the whole L.A. thing – it’s an easy temptation, I can tell you – and is kind of a douchebag because of it, but he’s not really a douchebag deep down. That’s fairly complex, but Schwartzman pulls it off.

Scott is becoming a very reliable comic actor with big things ahead of him. I liked him a lot in A.C.O.D. and I like him a lot here as well. He is pleasant enough even when the situation around him is crazy as can be but he seems nonplussed by the insanity. He also makes a very attractive couple with Schilling, who is a versatile actress who is mainly the straight woman here but she has her comedic moments as well.

This is definitely L.A.-centric and those who delight in dissing the City of Angels will have a field day here. Those who love the city as I do will be reminded of summer nights in the City, which can be among the nicest things you can experience in life. Still, the movie is anything but laid-back.

Much of the humor comes from awkward situations which can be…awkward. Still you have to admire a movie in which characters utter the lines “giant horse cock” and “I have an abnormally small cock” in the same scene. You just can’t get that anywhere else but here.

Like most movies, this one knows that the world’s most dangerous question is “Do you find me attractive” and that there’s no answer that doesn’t end badly once it is asked. Not all of the humor works here but when it does it is big laughs. On the balance, this is a rare breed of movie that walks the tightrope that is adult sex comedies. It occasionally falls off the wire but to its credit it gets back on and starts walking forward again, and that’s worthy of respect. This is solidly entertaining, rather funny and likely to be one of those movies that people will look at when Schwartzman, Scott and Schilling become A-list stars.

REASONS TO GO: Good chemistry among four leads. Very funny when it’s funny.
REASONS TO STAY: Not all of the humor works. Definitely awkward.
FAMILY VALUES: Graphic nudity, sexual situations and foul language..
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming took place over a mere 15 days, very quick for a feature film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Ex-Machina

Listen Up Philip


Elisabeth Moss consoles Jason Schwartman; her choice in projects is suspect too.

Elisabeth Moss consoles Jason Schwartman; her choice in projects is suspect too.

(2014) Dramedy (Tribeca) Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter, Josephine de La Baume, Jess Wexler, Eric Bogosian (voice), Dree Hemingway, Keith Poulson, Kate Lyn Sheil, Yusem Bulos, Maite Alina, Daniel London, Samantha Jacober, Lee Wilkof, Joanne Tucker, Steven Boyer, Teddy Bergman, Rachel Oyama, Babs Olusanmokun. Directed by Alex Ross Perry

Being a writer isn’t as easy as sitting before a word processor and typing away. It involves research and introspection. There are those who find some writers insufferable self-centered boors. There are those who also believe that all writers are insufferable self-centered boors. The reason for that is that some writers give the rest of the ink-stained wretch community a bad name.

Philip Lewis Friedman (Schwartzman) is on the eve of the publication of his second novel. He has a beautiful girlfriend, photographer Ashley Kane (Moss) and a certain amount of acclaim in the literary community. You would think all of this would make him content; a career on the rise and all the things in place for a brilliant future.

The truth is that Philip Lewis Friedman is an utter prick. The only thing that matters to him is the acknowledgement that he is better than most people, that those who didn’t believe in his eventual success were fools beyond measure and traitors not just to him but society at large. At the very least those people were uncouth boobs.

But he meets his idol, best-selling author Ike Zimmerman (Pryce) who had a great run in the 70s and 80s but has written infrequently since then. He does have at least one genuine classic to his name and while he’s notoriously reclusive, he sees something in Philip’s writing that reminds him of himself. And so Philip goes up to Ike’s upstate New York “country retreat” leaving Ashley to hold the bag. A couple of weeks turns into the summer and then Philip takes a job teaching creative writing at a local college, a job arranged by Ike. A summer turns into a year.

Into Philip’s life comes Ike’s estranged daughter Melanie (Ritter) as well as a somewhat scheming faculty member at the same college Philip is working at, Yvette (de La Baume) and Holly Kane (Wexler), a student with a heavy crush on Philip. And yet, he views all his relationships by what they can do for him and his career. He can’t stop thinking about Ashley who is moving on. And the mentorship of Ike is turning into a friendship. Can Philip get his act together and be a well-adjusted writer or is he doomed to be an arsehole the rest of his life?

I know there are some critics who found this movie amazing. I can’t help but wonder if they got a different print than the one I saw. I have rarely seen a movie directed so badly. Generally, I’m pretty forgiving about directors who make poor choices in the name of trying something different but there are so many shots that are mis-framed, poorly focused and look for all the world like a home movie. It’s entirely possible that this was the effect that Perry was going for; if so, it doesn’t enhance the movie at all and ends up being annoying and detrimental to the audience’s focus. Of course, some directors may not want audiences being engrossed by their movie. I just wouldn’t want to see their films.

There is narration provided throughout, some of it droll. Bogosian who doesn’t appear onscreen gives that narration a bit more gravitas than it deserves. Which reminds me about the dialogue; it’s the sort of dialogue that people who distrust academics and intellectuals believe that they actually talk this way. I’ve known plenty of both sorts of people; trust me, nobody talks like this and if they do, academics and intellectuals will be right in line with the others making fun of them.

Some of the best parts of the movie are those that concentrate on Ashley. Moss is a pretty decent actress and you can tell she’s really trying to make it work, but at the end of the day her best efforts go for naught; her character is absent from most of the last third and her absence is keenly felt. Schwartzman is talented and has a delivery that could make droll comedy work, but his talents are utterly wasted here. He succeeds only in making us not want to spend another second with Philip, and yet we do. It’s a train wreck of a character.

Usually with indie films I am a little bit more forgiving and maybe it was because I saw it on the heels of watching the really miserable Inherent Vice but I found myself unable to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt here. So many of the issues were just basic Filmmaking 101 stuff or Screenwriting 101 stuff that I sat through much of the film incredulous that supposed professionals made this. I kept looking for the YouTube logo in the corner.

I wish the very best for Alex Ross Perry, I really do. I hope his next film appeals to me much more than this one did, truly. But I honestly cannot in good conscience recommend that any reader who places any confidence in my opinion go see this. Watching this was an ordeal, and there are plenty of unpleasant ways to spend an hour and a half as it is that life throws at us whether we want to spend them that way or not to purposely plunk down money to go into a movie theater and be checking your watch every ten minutes and wonder when the ordeal is going to end.

REASONS TO GO: Bogosian’s narration is fun. Moss gives a game try.
REASONS TO STAY: Inept direction. Not funny enough to be a comedy and not deep enough to be a drama. Boring in long patches. Pretentious throughout.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of swearing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ike Zimmerman character is loosely based on author Philip Roth.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Robot & Frank
FINAL RATING: 3/19
NEXT: Fur

New Releases for the Week of January 16, 2015


The Wedding RingerTHE WEDDING RINGER

(Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Jenifer Lewis, Olivia Thirlby, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rogers, Ken Howard. Directed by Jeremy Garelick

When a socially awkward young man finds the girl of his dreams and she agrees to marry him, it’s a time for the support of his friends in getting him to and through the big day. However, this particular socially awkward young man doesn’t have any friends. With his bride-to-be expecting seven groomsmen and a best man, he needs to do the impossible but fortunately there’s help – Best Man, Incorporated whose charismatic CEO is willing to be a best man for hire. The groomsmen may be not all what they could be, but the socially awkward young man is gearing up for the time of his life.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette, premiere footage and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity)

American Sniper

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Kyle Gallner, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes. Chris Kyle went to Iraq as a Navy SEAL and a sharpshooter and became the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. This is the story behind the numbers, told as only Clint Eastwood can tell it.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: War
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references)

blackhat

(Universal/Legendary) Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother. Ruthless cyberterrorists are proving more elusive and deadly than conventional authorities can handle. Using the adage that it takes a thief to catch a thief, law enforcement turns to a convicted hacker who may be the only one who can stop the hackers from plunging the world into literal chaos.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Action Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)

I

(Aascar) Chiyaan Vikram, Amy Jackson, Suresh Gopi, Upen Patel. A deformed hunchback, an internationally recognized male model and a champion bodybuilder – all played by the same actor – whose interactions with a beautiful supermodel form the basis of events here which are told in a non-linear fashion.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace & Regal Oviedo Marketplace
Rating: NR

Listen Up, Philip

(Tribeca) Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter. An arrogant writer feeling alienated as his second book is about to be published sees his relationships disintegrating. When his literary idol offers his summer retreat as a refuge, he takes it so that he can focus on himself – his favorite subject. Instead, though, he begins to feel the absence of his connection with the city and those he spent time with in it.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Paddington

(Dimension) Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins. A family returning home one evening discover a talking bear from Peru alone in a railway station with a tag around his neck “Please look after this bear.” Naming the creature Paddington, they bring him home out of the kindness of their hearts and get thrown into all manner of mischief and chaos but their resolve will be tested when a museum taxidermist takes a particular interest in the talking bear.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Spare Parts

(Lionsgate/Pantelion) George Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Esai Morales, Jamie Lee Curtis. Four Hispanic students in an economically challenged high school form a robotics club under the leadership of a charismatic science teacher. With $800, some used car parts and zero experience, they enter a national competition where they will face teams that have enormous budgets, state-of-the-art facilities and loads of experience, led by national champion MIT. These odds don’t deter them; they go in with the expectation that they will make something more of what they have.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal The Loop
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and violence)

Big Eyes


Amy Adams doesn't want to part with this prop, although Christoph Waltz reassures her.

Amy Adams doesn’t want to part with this prop, although Christoph Waltz reassures her.

(2014) Biographical Drama (Weinstein) Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Jon Polito, Elizabeth Fantone, James Saito, Guido Furlani, Delaney Raye, Madeline Arthur, Emily Bruhn, Alan MacFarlane, Tony Alcantar, Jaden Alexander, Andrew Airlie, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Stephanie Bennett, Andrea Bucko. Directed by Tim Burton

Art is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. The big-eyed waifs painted by Keane were, in the 1950s and 1960s, highly sought-after. Prints and posters hung in many homes and the originals were highly sought-after by collectors. Walter Keane was one of the first to commercialize art in many ways, leading the way for guys like Andy Warhol and Robert Wyland. There are those who would sniff that Keane’s vision was more kitsch than art and doesn’t hold up over the years. But Keane held a secret much deeper than that.

Margaret Ulbrich (Adams) has fled an abusive marriage, taking her daughter Jane (Raye) to San Francisco where her friend DeeAnn (Ritter) is overjoyed to see her out on her own. Margaret loves to paint but she’s forced to take a mundane job to support her daughter, but still continues to paint and sells her art in the park on weekends. There she meets Walter Keane (Waltz), a charming and outgoing man who claims he once studied to paint in Paris. He’s a born salesman and at the moment he’s selling himself. Margaret, who knows that a divorcee with a daughter isn’t going to be attracting a lot of romantic attention, marries Walter despite DeeAnn’s misgivings.

Soon Margaret starts painting a series of sad children with oversized eyes. Walter is painting his landscapes and both are not really selling much of anything. Walter manages to wrangle Enrico Banducci (Polito), the owner of one of the city’s iconic jazz clubs, to hang some of the artwork in the club where Walter can ostensibly sell it, but the place the art gets hung – a corridor leading to the bathrooms – isn’t exactly the place where people look for artwork. However after a staged row gets more customers into the club to see the fireworks between Banducci and Walter some attention gets paid to the art.

But not Walter’s art – Margaret’s. Soon her artwork begins selling like hotcakes and in a moment of perhaps panic but more likely pride, Walter claims that he is the artist that painted the waifs. Soon, there is huge demand for these paintings and Walter opens up a gallery. When people start stealing posters and postcards, he begins charging for them. Before long, the waifs are an international phenomenon.

For Margaret, success is bittersweet. The money is nice and the recognition is terrific, but nobody is recognizing her. It’s Walter reaping the success, Walter getting the recognition. Even a now-grown Jane (Arthur) recognizes that her mother is being screwed. Walter’s increasingly bizarre behavior, brought on by drinking, becomes too much. Margaret leaves and takes Jane with her to Hawaii, but Walter needs her paintings to fuel his income. The arrangement seems to work but it becomes clear that keeping the secret is a terrible burden for Margaret. When the truth comes out, where will the chips end up?

Burton has always been the kind of director whose films you can tell instantly are his, even if you don’t know what you’re seeing. He outdoes himself here – not so much with the semi-Gothic look of some of his movies, not even in his fascination with kitsch which is certainly present here, but in his use of color. Every shot is like a painting, with the colors melding together in not only the set design and the costumes but even down to the lighting. Burton’s eye is exquisite.

The story is based on Margaret’s memoirs and thus Walter is given short shrift in many ways. The point of view is strictly Margaret’s and while some of Walter’s family have complained that the film portrayed him as a talentless hack and even that he taught Margaret how to draw the waifs (which he was unable to reproduce in court during the libel trial that is depicted at the end of this film), all I can say is that you don’t go to the movies to seek the truth, merely an aspect of it, a perspective on it. And who’s to say what the truth is? There’s Margaret’s story, Walter’s story and somewhere in between is the reality of what actually happened.

Adams is one of my favorite actresses and she gives a solid though unspectacular performance as Margaret. Margaret is the mousy submissive 50s housewife through much of the movie and that can impede a performance if one is constantly looking down at the floor miserably, but Adams does eventually give Margaret some spunk which shows through in different often unsettling ways. Waltz, who I almost always enjoy, is a bit miscast here; while he has the charisma and charm to pull that aspect of Walter off, sometimes he’s so overpowering that the movie tilts a bit in the wrong direction. Less would have been more in this case. Also, both have trouble maintaining their accents as Waltz’ Austrian accent sometimes slips out and Adams’ Tennessee accent sometimes slips away. A bit more consistency would have been nice.

Like Ed Wood (whose writers co-wrote this film), Burton shows an unusual sympathy for those outside the system, those relegated to freak show status. The Keanes operated outside the normal boundaries of the art world back then, as represented by a snooty art critic (Stamp) and a snobby gallery owner (Schwartzman) and more or less clawed their way to the top. There is no doubt that Walter was an excellent promoter and while his actions may have been reprehensible, once in awhile you get a glimpse of the insecurities within that may well have fueled his behavior and Big Eyes succeeds very well there. This isn’t Burton’s best work, but it is his best in quite awhile.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeously shot. Champions the outsider once again. Captures the kitsch of the era nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally an accent drops. Waltz is unusually out-of-step.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of harsh language and the themes can be pretty adult.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Margaret Keane can be seen reading a book on a park bench in the scene when Walter and Margaret are painting in front of the Palace of Fine Arts.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/11/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ed Wood
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Exodus: Gods and Kings