Another entry on the films I saw during the month of May.
New (my first time watching):
Wild- Before I watched this film, people kept saying this was the female version of “Into the Wild” (a movie which I greatly admired). I don’t think the two can be compared. “Wild” is about a woman, reeling from the loss of her mother, being lost in drug and alcohol addiction which fuels the failure of her marriage (along with infidelity). She sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in the 1990s to come to terms with herself. “Into the Wild” is about a top university student who gives away his money and possessions and sets out to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Thematically, these films could not be farther apart. “Wild” is about fighting for one’s soul while intentionally getting away from life while “Into the Wild” is potentially about a good idea that goes too far and ends up costing life. Reese Witherspoon is often associated with cheesy romantic comedies and the “Legally Blond” movies. People forget that she can act if we consider her award-winning turn in “Walk the Line” as June Carter Cash and here in “Wild” as Cheryl Strayed. This is a very good movie although I don’t buy into the ultimate idea that we do not need redemption as people. ****
Big Hero 6- The Academy award winner for best animated film is a fairly good entry for Walt Disney Animation Studios. At heart, this is an action-packed comic book film that takes place in a city that is a cross between San Francisco and Tokyo. The story centers on the friendship between a 14 year old boy and a plus-sized inflatable robot. My sources tell me this is a Marvel comic property which is not a part of the official Marvel canon of live action movies. All of this makes sense because of the comic book sensibilities throughout the film (sorry to the purists, I knew nothing about this movie before watching it). Yes, we have seen movies similar to this before but “Big Hero 6” is a fun time. The animation is also solid. *** 1/2
Mr. Turner- Mike Leigh directs a film here that has several scenes or shots that look like paintings. Those aspects fit considering this is a film about JMW Turner’s life- or atleast the last quarter of a century of his life. Turner is considered one of the best British painters of all time. Talent he possessed and eccentricity was a common trait of Mr. Turner who was not always socially nice. The film does drag along through certain points but there is no denying the gorgeous cinematography and the exceptional performance of Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner. ***
Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language)- Here is one of the masters of cinema Jean-Luc Godard who is well known for the famous “Breathless” among many other works of French New Wave. His newest work reportedly received a round of applause mid-screening at Cannes Film Festival and is widely critically acclaimed. I was not clapping my hands after watching this. Visually, this may be somewhat interesting as Godard fumbles with new means of communication in the information age but the plot and theme are incomprehensible. A man and woman -Heloise Godet and Kamel Abdeli- play a couple who wander around a house endlessly arguing about philosophy, sexism and politics. Meanwhile, there is a dog wandering around through the landscape. Not sure what else to say except this is just not a good film. Critics can go ahead and love the pretentiousness but I don’t. * 1/2
Selma- A movie like “Selma” is so rare. A landmark film about not only a vital figure to American- and world- history but also about an event that’s impact ripples down through the generations. Martin Luther King, Jr, a powerhouse performance from David Oyelowo, tries to secure voting rights for minorities while battling with abusive cops, explicit racists and deal-making politicians in order to secure liberty for people who had been historically marginalized and oppressed. The juxtaposition between King and President Lyndon Johnson, played by Tom Wilkinson, is a large part of the film. An activist trying to fight for basic liberties and even the life of minorities and a political salesmen in LBJ trying to appease all of his constituents. When the audience sees police officers in 1965 beating peaceful marchers and shooting unarmed civilians, leave the theater, turn on their local news and subsequently see the same actions in 2015, they can legitimately ask how far we have actually come. Soul-stirring and haunting, “Selma” ranks as one of the best of 2014. *****
Dumb and Dumber To- What the hell were they thinking doing a sequel to one of the greatest comedies of all time? I expected “Dumb and Dumber To” to be awful and not funny. The movie only slightly surprised me as, I believe, I laughed out loud about 4 times. This is a comedy where the screenplay and antics of the lead characters are trying so desperately hard to be funny that we almost pity them. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are fine actors but what else can explain their participation in this unnecessary sequel other than a massive pay day? Admittedly, some of the gags work for laughs but so much of the film is just flat. The ending is terribly…well…dumb. Even by these standards. **
Still Alice- My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s disease which makes watching this film a sad journey down the road my family found itself on. To be sure, Julianne Moore’s performance as Alice Howland is wonderful. Alice is an intellectual, a professor, who finds her mind slipping away from a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s. Her husband, John Howland, is played by Alec Baldwin. In a surprisingly effective performance, Kristen Stewart does fairly well as Lydia Howland who is Alice’s daughter. The film is about the losing battle of trying to maintain dignity and life with a disease that is destroying both and a family grappling to come to terms with what is happening to mom. This is a sad film and there is no other way that it can be. *** 1/2.
Warrior- Gavin O’Conner’s “Warrior” is the epitome of an inspirational sports film but that is not an insult. The movie is effectively done, thrilling and contains powerfully moving performances from Tom Hardy (Tommy Conlon) and Joel Edgerton (Brendan Conlon)- two brothers who will end up fighting each other in a Mixed Martial Arts battle in Atlantic City. Of course, the plot has to go that way. You had better believe that the brothers have serious family issues with each other leading up to the fight. Nick Nolte, playing a former dead beat dad, also hovers around the proceedings. He has found Jesus and is trying to earn back his son’s trust. That this film has a familiar theme is forgiven because of how well done this film is. ****
Horrible Bosses- Haven’t we all been here? In the various spaces of where we work, dealing with the magnitude of a toxic personality that has authority is not a fun time. If one sees “Horrible Bosses”, I would hope that the leader of their work is not as bad as the bosses here. Kevin Spacey plays a narcissistic psychopath. Colin Farrell (in a fairly hilarious turn) plays a drugged out cokehead and Jennifer Aniston plays an aggressive sex addict. Three friends (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Steve Wiebe) who work for these respective crazies hatch a plot to kill them. What ends up being a good idea is not as seamlessly executed as it could have been. Sure, there are some laughs but I couldn’t escape the feeling that this felt a lot like a lesser Judd Apatow comedy. ** 1/2
Inherent Vice- I love Paul Thomas Anderson. He is one of the most original writers/directors working in Hollywood today. I looked forward to seeing this film as soon as I heard that it was in production. Oh, what a crushing disappointment. I have not seen Hard Eight but this has got to be Anderson’s worse film. Too bad because Joaquin Phoenix as Larry “Doc” Sportello gives one wild performance. He can’t save a grueling plot and incomprehensible shenanigans that work off the story. The setting is the 1970s and a private detective (Sportello) attempts to find his old girlfriend. Look for a ton of acting talent in this one: Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short and others. Working from a novel from Thomas Pynchon (which I have never read), this movie just doesn’t work. ** 1/2
El Orfanato (The Orphanage)- Laura (Belen Rueda) brings her family (her husband Carlos played by Fernando Cayo and her son Simon played by Roger Princep) back to her former orphanage home where she has many nostalgic memories. At the orphanage, her son begins communicating with an invisible friend and shortly thereafter, vanishes. There are some creepy moments to J.A Bayona’s film which is made with considerable skill. The plot is one of those stories about uncovering the past and the horrors from a previous time which may lead to clues about what happened with the present disappearance. There is no happy ending here. The conclusion is hard for me to stomach, as more of a values ideal, but I understand why the ending happens the way that it does. “The Orphanage” is a spooky, solid film. *** 1/2
Bull Durham- A baseball classic, “Bull Durham” highlights players in the minor leagues who dream of getting to “the show” (the majors) and also players who are washed up and at the end of their careers. The latter is catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) who is embittered about his demotion from the Majors and now is assigned to help develop a wild-armed pitcher, “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). Also “developing” Nuke is Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) who claims she dates one player from the minors every year and helps their careers by doing so. Throughout the film, of course, are the timeless speeches and the obvious metaphor of the system of baseball being like romantic relationships. There are also some genuine laughs. Costner is not a great actor but the performance works here because of what is around him. *** 1/2
Dazed and Confused- Richard Linklater is a fascinating observer of different rites of passage in life. That was true with 2014’s “Boyhood” which was an excellent movie. It is true also with one of his first films that features the last day of high school before summer vacation. “Dazed and Confused”, like “American Graffiti” is a time capsule. This film takes us back to when high schoolers would trash the campus right before summer break. When seniors would hunt down incoming freshmen for hazing rituals which involved giant paddle boards and of course, the continuing tradition of epic parties. If someone were to compare George Lucas “American Graffiti” with Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused”, they could wax poetic about filmmakers looking back on past eras. Lucas made “American Graffiti” in the 1970s which was set in the 1950s. Linklater made “Dazed and Confused” in the 1990s which was set in the 1970s. If one watched these movies back to back, they may possibly think they are watching the de-evolution of our species. The plot of “Dazed and Confused” is certainly not sophisticated. Look for a young Ben Affleck as a senior obsessed with unleashing hazing upon poor freshman. Also, in one of his first films, Matthew McConaughey is an older guy still hanging out with the high schools. “Alright, alright, alright.” ****
There’s Something About Mary- This is probably the Farrelly Brothers second best film behind the comedy gold of “Dumb and Dumber”. “There’s Something About Mary” strives to be a comedy with a story and heart and screwball type laughs. These items don’t always mix together convincingly but there is fun to be had watching this film. Ben Stiller is Ted who is one of those guys who has the worst luck imaginable. During high school, he falls in love with Mary (Cameron Diaz) and we find out the crush has lasted 13 years. Ted hires Healy (a sleazy Matt Dillon) a claims adjuster doubling as a private detective to help track down where Mary is. We soon discover that every guy who comes across Mary falls ridiculously in love with her. Hence, the endless comedy possibilities. As mentioned, the overboard screwball scenarios that come up don’t always mix well with the rom-com story. The tail end of the movie also feels like a tack on to appease audiences of rom coms. All in all, an enjoyable entry for this genre. *** 1/2