The Perks of Being a Wallflower


We can be heroes.

We can be heroes.

(2012) Drama (Summit) Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Jonny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Nicholas Braun, Julia Garner, Tom Savini, Melanie Lynskey, Mae Whitman, Adam Hagenbuch, Erin Wilhelmi, Reece Thompson, Zane Holtz, Joan Cusack, Landon Pigg, Emily Callaway, Jennifer Enskat. Directed by Stephen Chbosky

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It is somewhat ironic that while as we grow older we look back upon our high school years with more affection than any other era of our lives, while we are living those years they are often the most painful of our lives as well. We are so desperate to fit in, our self-confidence so low that we doubt even the most basic facts about ourselves. We often wonder if we are good enough and throughout our high school years we’re pretty much sure that we are not.

Charlie Kelmeckis (Lerman) is a freshman in high school. His older brother Chris (Holtz) has just graduated from the same school, a football scholarship to Penn State under his belt. His older sister Candace (Dobrev) is a senior who is dating Ponytail Derek (Braun), so named for his hippie-like appearance. Charlie discovers that Derek has been physically abusive with Candace but she tells him that it was a one-time occurrence and swears him to secrecy. His parents (McDermott, Walsh) are fairly clueless to what’s going on with him.

Charlie has a lot of problems. His best friend committed suicide the year before and he still has flashbacks to the death of his Aunt Helen (Lynskey) who died in a car accident on his seventh birthday. He finds himself unable to make friends, although he manages to make a friend of Mr. Anderson (Rudd), a sympathetic English teacher.

Two misfit seniors, Patrick (Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Watson) take him under their wings after a football game and the three become fast friends. Charlie is admitted into their inner circle, attending screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater in Pittsburgh in which Sam gets up on stage and dances provocatively. Charlie also discovers that Patrick is gay and having a relationship with a football hero (Simmons) but keeps that to himself as well.

Things are going well for Charlie overall. While he carries a torch for Sam, she has a boyfriend in college. Still, she gives him a Christmas present of a vintage typewriter, recognizing his skills as a writer and bestows upon him his first kiss – because she wants his first kiss to be from someone who loves him unlike her own.

Charlie gets asked out to the Sadie Hawkins dance by Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) who takes him to her home and kisses him, declaring him to be her boyfriend. The relationship continues, dominated by the strong-willed Mary Elizabeth in which Charlie gets more and more uncomfortable although they have been having sex which he doesn’t mind at all.

However, in a thoughtless moment during a game of Truth or Dare, he is dared to kiss the most beautiful girl in the room and plants one on Sam instead of Mary Elizabeth. That puts him on the outs with his friends and creates a rift with the people he cares about most. Charlie’s past is beginning to catch up with him as his memories begin to resurface and old feelings begin to drag him down like an anchor into the depths. Charlie needs his friends more than ever but without a support system around him, will he be able to make it through to his sophomore year?

This is based on a book Chbosky himself wrote and adapted for the screen, becoming the rare occasion when  an author not only adapts his own work for the screen but directs it as well. The source material has been praised for its accurate portrayal of teenagers and while it is set in the early 1990s, it nonetheless resonates timelessly.

Part of the success of the adaptation comes from an amazing cast. Watson, best known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films is simply fantastic. Sam is a very vulnerable character who is nonetheless loyal to those she loves. Watson shows that vulnerability without making it Sam’s defining characteristic.  Miller also is wonderful as Patrick. Catty and arch without becoming a gay stereotype, Miller turns Patrick into just a regular kid who happens to be gay. In doing so he does a lot for breaking those stereotypes.

Lerman is the center of the film and he does a terrific job here. While he has had his share of less than stellar performances, here he shows that he can and should be a major star. Charlie is one of the most complex characters that you’ll see in films, and Lerman imbues Charlie with all of that complexity – his angst, his self-doubt, his kindness, his neediness, his pride, his love, his cruelty – Charlie is far from perfect and while he may have more issues than most teenage kids, he certainly can’t be called unusual.

Chbosky wisely shot the film in Pittsburgh where he grew up and as the movie is said to be fairly autobiographical using familiar territory to set his film in works marvelously. Although I’m 30 plus years removed from my high school days, I felt immediate kinship with Charlie and his friends and the film resonated deeply with me, a feat indeed for a film that is clearly meant for younger viewers.

The movie has gotten its share of (deserved) praise and is one of those movies which may not necessarily be one that appeals to older audiences at first glance but the emotions and the feelings here are universal; younger audiences will relate completely to the movie and older audiences will find it resonant as well. It doesn’t hurt that it has an awesome soundtrack – any movie that contains the Smiths’ “Asleep” and David Bowie’s “Heroes” as major thematic songs is bound to be a good one.

WHY RENT THIS: Resonates with older and younger audiences alike. Amazing performances by the young cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Occasionally overdoses with angst.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some fairly mature thematic elements, depictions of teen drug and alcohol use, teen sexuality and some brief violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The theater in which the movie filmed the Rocky Horror sequences was the same theater in Pittsburgh that Chbosky used to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show when he was a teen.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: $33.4M on a $13M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Breakfast Club

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Day 3 of Our Film Library!

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Machete


Machete

Is this the face only a mother could love?

(20th Century Fox) Danny Trejo, Jessica Biel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Robert de Niro, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Tom Savini, Daryl Sabara, Alicia Marek, Gilbert Trejo, Cheryl Chin, Shea Whigham.  Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis

Injustice requires a hero, someone to stand up and defy those who perpetrate it. However, some injustice is so grave, so reprehensible it requires more than a hero: it requires a legend.

Machete (Trejo) is a Mexican federale who is a bit of a maverick and a lone wolf. While his partner pleads with him to back off of a kidnapping case, Machete refuses. He only knows one direction – forward – and one way – the hard one. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a trap set by a drug lord named Torrez (Seagal) who butchers Machete’s family. Since Machete’s boss is in Torrez’ pocket, his career as a federale is over.

Flash forward three years. Machete is working as a day laborer in Texas, where corrupt State Senator McLaughlin (De Niro) holds sway on a fire-eating anti-immigration platform. However, the good Senator’s re-election campaign isn’t going particularly well. It seems that he’s made some powerful enemies, including a snake oil businessman named Booth (Fahey) who hires Machete to execute the Senator with a high-powered rifle from the state capitol in Austin. However, the whole thing turns out to be yet another set-up.

It seems that Booth is actually McLaughlin’s aide. It turns out both of ‘em are also in Torrez’ pocket. It also turns out that a paramilitary vigilante border patrol, led by Lt. Von Stillman (Johnson) are in McLaughlin’s pocket; as a matter of fact, McLaughlin went on a little ride-along with the boys and shot him some Mescans, including a pregnant woman right in the belly.

However, they’ve messed with the wrong Mescan, as Machete slices and dices his way through every slick-haired, black-suited henchman this quartet of baddies can throw at him. He has allies of his own, however, to aid him in the slicing and dicing; Luz (Rodriguez), a revolutionary whose Underground Railroad-like organization for illegals operates out of her taco truck; Sartana (Alba), an ambitious immigration officer who falls for Machete; Padre (Marin), a priest who packs a little bit of lead along with his crucifix and Julio (Sabara), a vato with a heart bigger than all of Mexico.  

Along the way they’ll run into April (Lohan), a drugged-out wannabe-model whose father wants to make her daddy’s girl, Osiris Ampanpour (Savini), an Assyrian assassin with a sadistic streak and Sniper (Whigham), Booth’s right hand man. The odds are stacked against Machete, but Machete doesn’t care about odds, not as long as he has a razor sharp blade at his disposal.

This has all the elements of 70s blacksploitation (i.e. movies like Superfly and Shaft), Asian chop sockey (the films of the Shaw brothers and some of Bruce Lee’s early stuff), spaghetti westerns and even the slasher flicks of the 80s. All of this has been filtered through Robert Rodriguez’ Cuisinart of influences to create something unique and refreshing, even as it is also at once familiar.

It’s no secret that this was born from a faux trailer that appeared as part of the 2007 B-movie homage Grindhouse that Rodriguez did with fellow trash movie aficionado Quentin Tarantino (it is said that another fake trailer from that movie, Thanksgiving is on the fast track for development as well). However, the real genesis for this character and this project took place back in 1994 when Rodriguez was finishing El Mariachi when Rodriguez began writing a script about a disgraced ex-federale with a penchant for blades.

This is so over-the-top that NASA has it studying planets. Every swing of Machete’s weapon generates a fountain of blood and a limb, head or other body part parting rather gruesomely from the original owners. Machete also gets to use his other weapon plenty of times as nearly every woman in the movie gets a sex scene with him, all to the beat of ‘70s porn movie. Wackada wacka wacka boom chicka boom, baby! Of course, it’s a little difficult to picture Danny Trejo, who’s pushing 70 but still in awesome shape, as anything of a sex symbol. To each their own.

Still, this is the role Trejo was born to play. With his hard scowl, stringy hair, Fu Manchu moustache, angry demeanor and a slathering of tattoos, he has played murderers, rapists and thieves in countless movies over the years. Here, he is the kind of anti-hero that the audiences of the ‘70s embraced. There’s something vicariously thrilling about sticking it to the man, y’know.

De Niro is clearly having a great time here. His character is a combination of Byron de la Beckwith, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce and Foghorn Leghorn and De Niro hams it up like he’s working a middle school talent show. In fact, one gets the impression that Rodriguez told all his actors to “let her rip!” and the only instructions they received from him thereafter were “More!”

Certainly modern audiences aren’t used to this much gratuitous sex and overt, bloody violence but that’s okay; those of us who remember Times Square before the chain restaurants, Starbucks and tourist-friendly shopping when just walking into the area made you want to shower and then dry off with sandpaper will embrace Machete with both arms. Okay, not literally; giving Machete a hug will probably lose you the use of both your arms unless you’re a naked chick with big bazoombas. And that’s the way it should be.

REASONS TO GO: It’s social commentary disguised as a cheesy 70s action flick wrapped in satire. The movie is so preposterous you have to love it.

REASONS TO STAY: Those who are faint of heart when it comes to sex and violence should steer clear.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of gratuitous sex and lots of gratuitous violence to go with lots of gratuitous language. Who says they don’t make ‘em like this anymore?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After Rodriguez told Trejo about the role of Machete and the film he intended to make, Trejo called Rodriguez regularly at varying times of the day to pitch himself for the role. Finally, when an exasperated Rodriguez asked Trejo why he didn’t just text him, Trejo replied “Machete don’t text” and Rodriguez liked the line so much he used it in the movie.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh, home viewing for this one, definitely. Preferably with a six pack of cheap beer, a bagful of pork rinds and a taco or two.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Fifty Dead Men Walking

Zack and Miri Make a Porno


Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Didn't I see this in a letter to Penthouse?

(Weinstein) Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jason Mewes, Justin Long, Jeff Anderson, Brandon Routh, Tom Savini. Directed by Kevin Smith

I am quite frankly a big Kevin Smith fan. Chasing Amy is one of my favorite movies from the Nineties, and I also adore Dogma and Jersey Girl (which I guess makes me a fanboy). While I wasn’t high on Clerks II or Mallrats I still admire them as well. I guess it’s safe to say he has a whole lot of leeway with me when it comes to his movies.

Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) have been friends since high school and while they’ve never been romantically involved, they manage to stay close; in fact, they share a dumpy apartment. The electricity has been shut off just before they go to their high school reunion, one which is important more to Miri than to Zack (she’s even managed to procure a new dress for the occasion). Zack works at a coffee bar with his good friend Delaney (Robinson) and Miri is forced to change into her new dress in the coffee bar’s kitchen, which is filmed by a couple of teenaged dickweeds. More on that later.

The reunion is a complete disaster. The guy that Miri is trying to impress, Bobby Long (Routh) turns out to be gay, much to the amusement of Zack who discovers this while talking to Bobby’s gay porn star partner (Long) who then proceeds to out Bobby to the whole class. Ouch.

With funds getting thin, water and power turned off and the prospects of not being able to pay the rent looming, they discover that Miri has become famous for her striptease video which the dickweeds uploaded to YouTube. They need cash quickly and they decide to cash in on Miri’s newfound fame by making a porno. Hey, if Bobby’s gay partner can do it, then it can’t be impossible can it?

Surprisingly, Miri agrees to the scheme. To this end they recruit Delaney as a producer, high school videographer Deacon (Smith regular Anderson) to shoot the movie, as well as several would-be porn stars to act in it; Bubbles (former porn star Lords), Stacey (current porn star Morgan) and the very well-hung (and possibly deranged) Lester (Mewes). They decide to do a Star Wars-themed porno but when circumstances force that to shut down, they decide to film in the coffee bar instead.

However, when the time comes for Zack and Miri to film their own sex scene, they discover that it becomes more than sex. Once the two of them have scenes with other actors, it complicates a friendship which when they least expected it had grown into something else.

Smith is maybe one of the best writers in the business. Yes, he’s fond of using a variety of profanity but he uses it in the same way Hemingway used machismo, as a means to an end. The characters here are all interesting; you could spend time with any one of them and find yourself entertained and you get a room full of them at any given time. There are moments that are hysterically funny, and others that are quietly endearing.

Smith’s movies have a tendency to be rather raunchy on the outside but have a surprisingly tender inside. Chasing Amy for example was one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, and one that gets what love is more thoroughly than any ten Lifetime Movie Channel movies you could name. Certainly sex is part of the equation, but as it does for Zack and Miri, the movie goes beyond the equation by a really large margin. It’s actually refreshing to see a movie that balances both the emotional with the physical instead of dwelling on one or the other.

Rogen made a name for himself as the endearing schlub in Knocked Up and this movie comes closest to the sweetness of that character. Sure he has an immature streak but you love him anyway, the same way you love that friend of yours that can be counted on to mess up at any given time, but not so much out of malice or stupidity but more out of bad luck and low ambitions.

I can’t tell you why Elizabeth Banks isn’t an A-list star, but she surely deserves to be. She is pretty and smart and plays a character that can hold her own with anybody. Sure, she makes some poor life choices but again, who hasn’t? Roles like this are perfect for Banks, who can be sexy and smart – often the two don’t mix in Hollywood. I’m still hoping for a big breakout film for her, but there don’t appear to be any forthcoming for her for the moment.

There is a lot of graphic nudity, simulated sex and sexual humor here, so this is definitely not for the Puritanical at heart, but those who aren’t easily offended will find this a bit refreshing; a raunchy comedy that actually is more than just funny. It makes you feel good and at the end of the day, isn’t that why you see movies in the first place?

WHY RENT THIS: There is more heart than crotch in this movie despite all signs to the contrary. Rogen and Banks exhibit some real chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sensitive souls will find the overuse of the f-bomb and the frank sexual humor off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: This very nearly got an NC-17 and while it didn’t really deserve it, there is plenty of sexuality and frank discussion of sex, enough to scare any prude away.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Tom Savini, who plays Jenkins, was the make-up man for Dawn of the Dead which was set in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; the hockey team Zack and Deacon play on is called the Monroeville Zombies.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As with most Kevin Smith films, there is a wealth of features, deleted scenes and other assorted goodies totaling well over two hours.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Knight and Day