Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thought - Archer Avenue

I have officially launched my new website, Archer Avenue, at archeravenue.net.  I won't be posting here any more, all new content will be at Archer Avenue.  I will keep this blog open for a while, as all reviews & trailers still link back here, but go over to the new site for updates and new posts.  Thank you for all your support and for reading; please continue to enjoy my work at archeravenue.net.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie Trailer - Beside Still Waters

Director: Chris Lowell
Starring: Ryan Eggold, Britt Lower, Beck Bennett
Release: November 14th, 2014

You'd think we'd get tired of Big Chill friend reunion films, but we don't.  It's because we all have friends, both old & new, and we wonder what it would be like to live with them for a weekend, rehash all the drama of the past, feel those things you used to feel, and come away better people.

Movie Review - The Double

Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska

Year: 2013

Jesse Eisenberg is a polarizing figure, a fact that has never been more emphasized than in this equally polarizing film.  Or perhaps a better word would be 'exact', as he & The Double have a personality & a feel that you had better connect with exactly if you are to have any hope of enjoying your devoted time.  I've historically found the guy off-putting, with roles that I didn't love in movies I didn't really like: Adventureland, The Social Network, To Rome with Love, Now You See Me.  Like I said, he either hits you perfectly or else he skips off the surface, leaving you more annoyed than affected.  Luckily, in The Double, not only did he strike me as brilliant but the film itself kept its promise to be brilliantly weird, culminating in an entertaining ninety minutes that felt perfectly aimed at my exact tastes.

Living in a dreary, modern, industrialized dystopia, Simon basically doesn't exist.  He punches the clock at an all-powerful data company, goes home to his depressing apartment, and has spent the last seven years making no impression on anyone.  He obsesses about the girl across the way, Hannah, but never speaks to her, can't get recognized by the security guard who has seen Simon's face a thousand times, will never work up the courage to propose new ideas to the head of his department, and is generally dying one long day at a time.  But his stable world rocks when a new employee arrives at work, a man named James.  James happens to be Simon's last name and this James happens to have the exact same face as Simon.  No one else seems to notice, but Simon feels his miserable life slipping away even more quickly as this James person begins to be & do all the things that Simon always wished he would have the strength to make happen.  The two begin an odd friendship, their existences entertwining, but only one of them can claim the space that both now occupy.

It's a strange concept, yet not one that's unheard of.  Many movies have tried the idea; two personas exhibiting different sides of one character.  There's a battle of sorts, someone comes out on top, lessons are learned; not to wild.  The story actually came from a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel written in 1846, and so has a social/political feel that still translates well to the screen.  The film also has a bit of a Terry Gilliam air, coming across as a new take on Brazil.  So, director Richard Ayoade had a ton to work with, a few recycled ideas to make fresh, and he succeeded in balancing the old with the new.  As I mentioned, this role from Jesse Eisenberg struck the right cord when many of his others failed to do so.  The movie itself was quirky and funny in exactly the way I like, randomly lining up with my taste level in a way I hadn't anticipated.  Will the film please everyone in the same way?  Most definitely not.  It's extremely odd, shot strangely, laced with offbeat humor, and decidedly morbid.  It's a difficult picture to recommend, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed, enough to hope that this review entices you even knowing that you might not thank me later.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Trailer - Cymbeline

Director: Michael Almereyda
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Anton Yelchin
Release: January 23rd, 2015

We've seen Shakespeare modernized before and it can work.  Will it work here?  Hard to tell.  They've got the cast to do it and a murder-riddled plot.  But there's always the language barrier, can you make the lines work in a modern setting, or will it just feel silly?

Movie Review - White Bird in a Blizzard

Director: Gregg Araki
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Christopher Meloni, Eva Green
Year: 2014

Shailene Woodley is making the most of her 20s.  A television actress since the age of 8, she finally took the leap into mainstream cinema in 2011 with The Descendants and has yet to cool down.  The Spectacular Now, White Bird in a Blizzard, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, and the upcoming Insurgent & Allegiant; Woodley is Hollywood's 'it girl' right now and has shown no signs of slowing down.  Her lead roles have all been teen-oriented so far, with either emotional love stories or the Hunger Games-esque dystopic trilogy that's launching her into household name status.  This film marks her first "grown up" picture, although she plays a high schooler.  It's an American Beauty role that could prove to audiences that's she's not just another pretty face, that she's more than a tween superhero, and that her acting ability is something to be remembered.

This is the story of the Connor family and the events that broke it.  Kat grew up an only child in the 70s and 80s to a pair of unlikely parents: Brock the mild-mannered hard-worker & Eve the disappointed ice queen.  Now, as the 80s come to a close, Kat is all grown up, about to graduate high school, has blossomed into a beauty, wants her freedom, and has no respect for either of her parents.  They don't seem to like each other much either actually, and when Eve Connor disappears without a trace one random day Kat isn't all that broken up about it.  Brock seems to be, although his wife has openly despised him for years.  For Kat, this is just another weird episode in an odd life, and more important things demand her attention; getting laid, going to college, seeing her friends.  But as questions begin to arise surrounding her mother's disappearance, she is forced to face the truth, forced to find the truth, before life can continue down its twisted path.

I think it's time to say that Shailene Woodley is here to stay.  She doesn't exactly have the star power of Jennifer Lawrence, who does, but she's a force to be reckoned with and someone we'll be seeing in a film or two every year for the next twenty.  First off, she's gorgeous.  She's a little less approachable than JLaw but more so than Anne Hathaway, a pretty brunette who has a screen presence that holds your attention.  And in this film she's quite naked, trying to make an impression as so many young actresses have done before, letting us know that she's fulfilled the Hollywood rite of passage and is ready for the big time.  A little grotesque that that's the way it is, but hey, that's the way it is.  So she's proven her adulthood, but she's brought her talent along to back it up.  She plays Kat well, with a casual teen attitude that says nothing matters but everything matters.  When alongside Meloni & Green she holds her own, while when alongside her friends (Precious, where you been girl?!) she blows them out of the water.  The film rides on Woodley's shoulders since the plot is basic, the feel a little amateur, and the energy quite low.  But she's there to hold it up, even when the story falters, making White Bird in a Blizzard a mediocre film that stars a future mainstay.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Movie Trailer - Selma

Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth
Release: January 9th, 2015
I'm looking forward to this movie for a variety of reasons.  I liked David Oyelowo in The Butler, which was a fine film.  I also think this film will have a Mandela feel, which would be good thing.  And I'm interested in seeing Wilkinson & Roth as LBJ & George Wallace, respectively; I think those could be two phenomenal characters.  All in all, should be a worthwhile watch.

Sports - NFL Picks 2014, Week 11

Here are my NFL Week 11 Picks
(9-4 last week, 96-50-1 for the season)
Bye teams: Bal, Dal, Jax, NYJ

Buf @ Mia - The stats point toward the Dolphins winning this TNF matchup.  These teams have the same record and the same momentum.  But Miami has been great against  the AFC, has scored more points than Buffalo, and has allowed less.  Oh yeah, and they get to play at home.

Atl @ Car - The NFL South is a mess.  The Saints are winning the division with a 4-5 record, the Bucs are plain terrible, the Falcons are disappointing, and the Panthers just got destroyed by Mark Sanchez.  Carolina is on a four-game losing streak, while Atlanta just got their first road win.

Min @ Chi - Oddly enough, the Bears are actually winless at home this year, going 0-3.  They're also coming off a complete embarrassment at the hands of the Packers and I don't really see them rallying around that fact.  Still, it's not like the Vikings are great, and Cutler has to do OK some games.

Hou @ Cle - It seems odd to say, but Cleveland is clearly the better team in this game.  They're 4-1 in their last five games and are playing legitimately good football.  They're also 4-1 at home for the season and should be able to take care of Ryan Mallett and a mediocre Texans team.

Sea @ KC - The KC D is legit; only the Lions have allowed less points.  Not a good sign for a Seattle team that can run the ball for TDs but is not elite in the PPG category.  Also, the Chiefs are 3-1 at home and are riding a four-game winning streak.  I'll root for the Seahawks to win.

Cin @ NO - The Bungles are so streaky.  First they look unbeatable (3-0), then terrible (0-2-1), then recovered (2-0), then they get creamed by the Browns.  Now they go on a big road trip starting with a visit to New Orleans where the Saints are almost perfect.  I wouldn't want to be Marvin Lewis.

SF @ NYG - Talk about unpredictability.  The Niners are a very frustrating team to pick, you just never can tell how they're going to perform.  I like them to have a solid final stretch this season and make the playoffs, and I guess it starts here in New York where the Giants are barely a home team.

Den @ STL - It's unfortunate that the Broncos lost to both Seattle and New England on the road, and I wouldn't call St. Louis a pushover team, but I think Denver will find a way to get the job done.  The Rams are only 1-3 at home and Peyton is slinging the ball pretty well right now.

TB @ Was - It's a good thing that the Bucs are so incredibly terrible, because I don't see the 'Skins beating too many teams right now.  Although, after a bye week RG3 should be in good shape, ready to put up some points vs the team that has the worst point differential in the NFC.

Oak @ SD - I imagine there aren't many who would pick the Raiders here.  After all, they're 0-9, can't score, can't defend, and can barely play football.  I'll be rooting for them because I hate the Chargers, but SD is coming off a bye where they should have fixed some problems and should win.

Det @ Ari - This is gonna be a good one.  The big story is Carson Palmer going down, Drew Stanton (ex-Lion) stepping up to replace him.  Both of these teams play tremendous defense, so look for a low-scoring affair where Stanton plays just well enough to not lose.

Phi @ GB - Ok, maybe I was wrong to predict that Sanchez would tank.  Maybe.  He played well last week, but there's still time.  I would lay big money on Green Bay winning this game, especially at home, and I'm gonna stick to my guns in predicting Sanchez' imminent demise.

NE @ Ind - This is, by far, the best matchup of the week, and it's on SNF.  I'm naturally inclined to lean home team in a game between two great teams.  But the Pats are coming off a bye, Gronk & Brady are in sync, and I think New England is simply the better team.  Should be close though.

Pit @ Ten - With so many horrible teams in the league right now (Oak, TB, Jax, NYJ), people forget about Tennessee.  They're just plain awful, scoring the least amount in the NFL this season.  I know Pitt just lost on the road to the Jets, but I doubt they make it two in a row.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Movie Trailer - Chappie

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman

Release: March 6th, 2015

I actually got chills at the end of this trailer.  I love the idea of a robot/child finding his place in the world, as sappy as that sounds.  And I love the Short Circuit feel; 5 alive!  Add in that kid from Slumdog & the director of District 9 and I think we've got a real hit on our hands.

DVD Review - Happy Christmas

Director: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Joe Swanberg

Year: 2014

If you've seen a Joe Swanberg film, you know about his unique style.  He directs and writes movies that don't have scripts, stories that create themselves.  When his actors come onto the set for a day of shooting, they're told what needs to happen by the end of the scene.  That's it.  There isn't a set dialogue, each actor must improv their way through the situation and eventually come to the directed conclusion.  How they get there is largely up to them and their idea of their own character, with a little guidance from Joe of course.  So far the best I've seen this wacky idea work is in Drinking Buddies, a Swanberg film that also stars Anna Kendrick, though as a side character alongside Ron Livingston, acting in support of Jake Johnson and Olivia WildeI've never seen any of those actors do better; if you're up for an unusual take on cinema, check it out.  And if you're looking for a slightly more feminine perspective, check out Happy Christmas, an improvised Swanberg film that gives us as true a story of BFFs as you're ever likely to see.

The Movie

Jenny is a bit of a fuckup.  She can't control her drinking, likes to get high, and has the responsibility level of a ten-year-old.  Well, a ten-year-old that's drunk.  So when she goes through a bad breakup and wants to move in with her brother in Chicago, there are a few small problems.  One is that Jeff has married and settled down.  His wife Kelly is a writer from New Zealand who has recently become a stay-at-home mom following the birth of their son Jude.  Kelly loves her family and doesn't trust Jenny to follow the rules of the house or to create a safe environment for a near-two-year-old.  And she has reason to worry; Jenny seems hell bent on getting wasted immediately, finding a pot dealer, randomly hooking up, and generally being an ass.  Poor Jeff is in the middle, and it sure doesn't look like things are going to work out for this big happy family, not even with the holidays looming and forgiveness in the air.

But Jenny isn't all bad.  Her wild ways are just a part of her incredibly awkward personality, her need to please everyone around her even when her actions do anything but.  All she wants is to connect with her brother, the sister-in-law that she doesn't get along with, and the nephew that she doesn't know.  Her opportunity comes in the form of Kelly's birthday present to herself; some alone time in order to get some writing done.  Turns out, Jenny is just bursting with ideas, and while most of them are ridiculous, Kelly finds herself charmed by this girl trapped in a woman's body, this desperate person who couldn't make the right decision if her life depended on it.  But love is something that transcends behavior, which is something Jeff & Kelly will have to learn if they are to accept Jenny into their home & lives, to bring her into the family despite her numerous faults.

Sounds a bit cheesy from the summary, but Swanberg's style makes it anything but.  Take a normal, predictable story, give it some crappy dialogue, put it in the hands of an average director, and what you'll get is a sappy comedy that you could have made yourself.  But take that same plot, give it to Swanberg, and he'll create something that's so realistic you'll swear you lived it yourself.  It's the lack of a script, the organic nature in which the actors create the lines, that leads to scenes that never feel forced, always seem fluid, and become uncomfortably real.  Happy Christmas becomes a story of two girls who love each other despite being exact opposites, two friends who could be anyone you know, perhaps you yourself in Anna Kendrick form.  It's about as believable a movie as you're likely to watch, and for that alone, worth your time.

I give a lot of credit to Swanberg for his style, but he's got to have actors in place that are capable of creating the dialogue of the stories he thinks up.  Swanberg himself plays Jeff in this film, a part that's not insignificant, but becomes a side character fairly quickly.  Lena Dunham and Mark Webber appear as well, though also in small parts.  The leads are definitely the ladies, and they pull off feats that would be daunting to the most seasoned of actors.  Melanie Lynskey is great as Kelly; reserved, quiet, with an inner strength that shows through her carefully chosen words.  And Anne Kendrick is superb as Jenny; free-spirited, stupid, unsure, brash, loving, but confused.  Together they create a  female Odd Couple who help each other as much as they butt heads and weave a story together like they've known each other for years.  It's an example of some great improvisational acting, a stellar concept, and a film that's crafted well & originally, a movie unlike many others.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (16x9 Widescreen), the video is just OK.  The film was shot using an Arriflex 416 Plus camera with Zeiss Ultra 16 lenses and isn't big-budget quality.  The picture has a graininess that's reminiscent of the 70s, or perhaps of a hand-held camera.  It doesn't look amazing, but it actually adds to the personal feel of the film, of the reality of the story that unfolds.

Audio - The disc has two audio options: English 5.1 Dolby Digital or Espanol.  There are also subtitle options: English, Francais, Espanol, or None.  The sound quality of the film is good, with a nice use of music throughout that sets the tone and comes from the action itself, not a forced soundtrack of unrelated songs.

Extras - There are no extras on the DVD.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  With a unique style and incredible acting talent, Happy Christmas is a film that would have been cheesy in the hands of anyone else.  Under the direction of Swanberg, the story became ultra-realistic, a plot that could be believable to anyone anywhere.  Kendrick & Lynskey take the movie onto their shoulders and support it the entire way, creating a realistic and pleasant experience that you won't get many other places.  The video was crappy/cool, the audio nice, but there are no extras on the disc.  The worst thing about this movie is the strange picture on the DVD cover; the rest is top notch.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ - Content
☆ ☆ ☆ - Video
☆ ☆ ☆ - Audio
  - Extras
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ - Replay

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Movie Trailer - McFarland, USA

Director: Niki Caro
Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello
Release: February 20th, 2015

This looks like an odd combination of Draft Day and Million Dollar Arm.  In order to enjoy the former you have to love football and be from Ohio.  In order to enjoy the latter you have to love baseball and India.  So this one, you're gonna have to love high school cross country track and Californian migrant families?  Hmm.

DVD Review - Adventures of the Wilderness Family 1, 2, & 3

Directors: Stewart Raffill, Frank Zuniga, Jack Couffer
Starring: Robert Logan, Susan Damante, George 'Buck' Flower
Years: 1975, 1978, 1979

I can credit my mom & dad for my becoming a film critic.  At a young age, I was exposed to movies of many different genres, of a variety of styles and themes.  We were a close-knit family and Friday nights were movie nights up until high school really, when our lives became more individualized.  But movies were always something we shared, either a new VHS checked out from the local store or a film off the shelves at home, rewatched for the hundredth time.  The Wilderness Family was one of the latter, a movie that was worn out from too many viewings, a know-the-lines-by-heart story that became part of the fabric of our lives, transforming into something more than just entertainment.  So when the chance came to review not one but three films from this series, I jumped at the opportunity to revisit the past.  I figured nostalgia would carry me through, and it did for the original at least, but the second & third couldn't be saved and (sorry Robinsons) shouldn't be watched.

The Movie

The Wilderness Family - The first in what would become a trilogy, The Wilderness Family tells the story of the Robinson family and the adventure that changes their lives.  Living in L.A. is taking its toll on this young family.  Skip & Pat used to dream hippie dreams of independence and nature, but gave those up to start their responsible lives.  Their daughter Jenny is sick, with an allergy or an illness that's brought about by the filth of the town in which they live.  Little Toby just wants to have fun with his constant companion Crust, the family dog.  And so, when the stress of city living becomes too much, the Robinsons sell all they own, buy a piece of land in the Rockies, and move their lives to a place far away from everything.  They better learn fast how to survive, how to live off meager supplies, how to build their own home, connect with the nature around them, survive the elements, and become the family they always dreamed they could be.

Further Adventures - In the second installment, winter has come.  The Robinsons have settled into their new existence, with their cabin & their animals, and are ready to officially call their experiment a success.  But are they ready for what the wild land has in store for the toughest season of all?  The local old folks predict a frigid winter, with conditions that will test even the most hearty of mountain men.  A trip to town to buy supplies, a budding friendship with Boomer the prospector, bedding the family bear down in a cave for the winter; preparations are all made.  But nothing can prepare the family for all possibilities.  Pat gets sick, a pack of wolves haunt the cabin, a wolverine destroys saved up meat; this season proves the toughest of all very early on, hitting the Robinsons hard.  Can they survive months in the cold with only each other to turn to, or will they be forced to give up and return to the lives they left behind?

Mountain Family Robinson - And lastly, the most dramatic of the Wilderness Family trilogy, a story of not just man vs nature but man vs the establishment.  Having made it through the winter, the Robinsons now turn their sights on permanent living, building a garden to give them all the food they might need.  Pat is especially proud of the family garden, and when nature challenges its construction, she seriously considers leaving the woods forever.  Well, everyone might have to anyway, because a government official who drops by declares that the family is living their illegally, not mining the land as was agreed upon in the original claim.  Boomer to the rescue, as the old gold digger thinks he can find a lucrative mine, stake a claim alongside the Robinsons, and help them stay forever.  It won't be easy, as the land & the local animals seem determined to make this latest adventure a true challenge.  But don't count the family out yet, as they've persevered before and can definitely do it again.

Let's take a look at each film in turn.  The first one is by far the best, and I think I can say that even with a little bit of bias.  After all, my family had all three movies at home, though the original was the one I watched and enjoyed the most.  It's still the strongest of the trilogy, which makes sense, knowing that its strength & reception led to the making of the other two.  It's a movie that epitomizes the 70s, a time of longing for a more natural way, an experimentational time in America, especially for those in the cities who wanted something vastly different.  The movie shows all that to us fairly simply; the wooly man, the hot hippie mom, the happiness in nature, the slo-mo romps through the tall grass, the flowing dresses, the curly hair, the friendly animals.  It's like a 70s paradise in the woods, a heaven that every so often throws angry cougars your way.  The film has catchy original music, though it & many scenes become repetitive really quickly.  It's fun, easy to watch, family-oriented, and a definite indication of the feeling of the times.

The second film takes a step back.  First off, they get a new Jenny.  I'm not complaining, the first Jenny sucked.  She was always running around screaming her fool head off and getting into trouble.  She was the reason they ever had trouble in the first place and quite often I wished she'd just get eaten.  Anyway, the new actress they got for Jenny was more reserved and seemed much older, even though not much time is supposed to have passed.  What wasn't different was everything else; the music was the same, the flowery montages were the same, and there was even some use of stock footage from the first film.  Not very original.  Ironically, the cabin was different, which was perhaps supposed to go unnoticed, but at least they added in a new element and that was Boomer.  He became a real character, instead of just some weird guy who appeared every once in a while.  He started connecting with the family and that actually added to the story.  Still, I spent most of my time apathetically wondering if they'd all just die this time; not what the filmmakers were going for I presume.

And lastly, the final chapter.  Again, everything was pretty much the same; the frolics with nature, surviving the elements, Pat crying & wondering if they should leave.  The big difference was the music, which was distinctively horrible, and the pace, which was much slower.  This third installment was much more boring than the other two, coming across as a dull repeat of what we'd already seen two times before.  I still liked Boomer and thought that he added a lot to the family dynamic, but the whole government official thing was pretty stupid.  As a whole, the film felt like an afterthought, a last attempt to make money before the 70s were over and people stopped wanting to live in the mountains.  Perhaps I was just tired of watching the same family do the same things, but I think it was also a hefty amount of bad direction, bad acting, and recycled story.  Check out the first in the trilogy for a little woodsy time capsule drama, but forget the next two.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (16x9 Widescreen), the video is about as good as you would expect.  They did their job transferring the footage to DVD, making new titles appear over the old, calling the movies 1, 2, & 3 now.  But there's only so much you can do with film from the 70s.  It's not a very clear picture, though the nature scenes still come across as beautiful more often than not.  Just don't expect a lot of clarify from the disc and you won't be disappointed.

Audio - There are no audio options on the DVD, nor any other options for that matter, not even languages or scene selections.  What you get from the menu is a choice between which of the three movies you'd like to watch, that's it.  The film was taken from mono and turned into Dolby Digital English 5.1, so the sound is fine, especially remembering how it was on the original VHS.

Extras - There are no extras on this disc.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  With only the first film being strong enough to watch, and even that perhaps not good enough if you didn't love it thirty years ago, I wouldn't recommend the whole package for more than a nostalgic rental.  The first movie in the trilogy has some heart, the second bravely attempts to continue the story, while the third falls flat on its face.  The video is dated, the audio is well updated, and there are no extras to be had.  Maybe check out the first one if you have some memory of it, but steer clear of the others; they're not worth your time.

☆ ☆ ☆ - Content
☆ ☆ - Video
☆ ☆ - Audio
- Extras
- Replay

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Trailer - Comet

Director: Sam Esmail
Starring: Justin Long, Emmy Rossum
Release: December 5th, 2014

This definitely doesn't look like your typical rom/com, that's for sure.  It's got the same love-conquers-all elements but it seems to be set against a more vivid backdrop.  Maybe it's just a trick in the trailer and when you sit down to watch it the magic is lost, but perhaps it'll be worth a shot in the dark.

Movie Review - Listen Up Philip

Director: Alex Ross Perry
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, Elisabeth Moss
Year: 2014

Jason Schwartzman will forever hold a place in my heart.  It all started with Rushmore, the first film he ever did.  Of course I'm a big Wes Anderson fan, and Schwartzman would go on to be in a million more WA films: The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  That seems to be his niche, but he has branched out as well with roles in I Heart Huckabees, Shopgirl, Marie Antoinette, Funny People, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Saving Mr. Banks, and now Listen Up Philip.  Schwartzman is the master of quirk, of heartless quips that sum up what we all feel but are unwilling to say.  He's got a style that can't be copied, a Woody Allen-like swagger minus the high anxiety.  He's an underrated actor, a deliverer of unique characters, and an actor who shines once again, albeit in a mediocre film.

Philip Friedman, the character in question, is an up-and-coming author.  He has one hit book to his credit and another about to hit the shelves.  And although things seem to be taking off, Philip finds himself in a state of distracted depression that prohibits him from finding happiness in his minor success.  He lives with Ashley, his girlfriend of a few years, but this relationship doesn't satisfy him any longer, as he finds himself resenting any success she happens to attain since it seemingly detracts from his own.  So Philip needs a change, and that luckily comes along in the form of a mentor with a retreat.  Ike Zimmerman, a moderately famous author himself, takes Philip under his wing, brings him to his country home, and teaches him the ways of the unstable writer.  Not that this tutelage is going to make Philip a better person, but he just might become a semi-known and unlikeable author; he can dream.

Jason Schwartzman was, of course, solid in this role.  He always excels when given a character that can shoot lines from the hip, that can make everyone around him uncomfortable with the boldness of his opinions.  Philip is basically an asshole, but Schwartzman always plays that perfectly.  It's a dry script with humor interlaced within and quickly interjected.  Stay on your toes and you'll laugh out loud at the horribly awkward conversations and cutting remarks.  Sit back for a second and a lot of the fast subtleties will fly right by leaving no mark whatsoever.  Even feeling up to the challenge, I found the film boring in parts, especially when Schwartzman wasn't on screen.  The story was also about Ashley & Ike, who just didn't capture me in the way that Philip did, and so left me a little unimpressed.  There's a bit of narration which I didn't hate, and I guess the same could be said about the film in general.  It's good not great, with Schwartzman adding the only memorable element and lifting the project out of the sleepy indie doldrums.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Movie Trailer - Ex Machina

Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
Release: April 10th, 2015

I like the scale this film appears to be created on.  Most AI dramas are so large, so epic, and often in an awesome way, but I think I'll enjoy the smaller set, the few characters, and the up-close-and-personal storyline.  Plus, this kind of sci-fi is just cool anyway, and should be done well with two very good actors, Gleeson & Isaac.  I'm in.

Movie Review - Interstellar

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck
Year: 2014

To say that a film is not as good as 2001: A Space Odyssey is ludicrous.  To film critics, movie buffs, and sci-fi geeks, what is?  That film was a groundbreaking piece of art, a late 60s masterpiece that hasn't lost a bit of potency in almost 50 years.  And I don't even love the movie, wouldn't put it in my Top 20, but I respect it as the sci-fi epic that set the standard, that showed others where to go, and that remains the pinnacle of the genre.  So, to leap to the conclusion that Interstellar doesn't match 2001 in the realm of space cinema is just too easy and too vague.  Of course the two will be compared, both feature a lot of the same elements, but only one will win the battle of who's-better-than-who, and we all know which one that is.  My point, for lack of a better word, is that Nolan's film needs to be held up against others in the modern age, sci-fi flicks of the last decade and even of the last two years.  When we stop trying to find holes in what is being called the most ambitious movie of the century, when we stop shooting it down because it's not superior to the god of the industry, and when we judge it based on our own critique of others like it, there is no reason why Interstellar shouldn't stand alone as the best picture of the year.

In a future in which the planet is sending us a clear message that our time here is done, humanity scratches out a living in the dust of the world it once knew.  Human population has dramatically decreased, global technologies have ceased to exist, and the most important thing a person can do is become a farmer, battle the blight, survive the dust, feed a dying world.  For Cooper and his family, this life isn't delivering the stimulation that they need.  Cooper was one of the last of the pilots before food shortage made space exploration and military might obsolete.  Murph, his daughter, is as bright & talented as Coop, but is forced to grow up on planet that's slowly killing off her people.  But their futures are about to change, after a gravitational anomaly leads them to a secret government base and the discovery that not all flight has been grounded.  An underground team has predicted that humanity will indeed die, that the Earth is no longer our home, and that we must leave if there is to be any hope of future generations.  Cooper will lead a mission into the depths of the galaxy, in search of life and a new beginning, promising his family that he will return someday, no matter the cost.

Let me start by addressing the negative criticism of the film.  Critics are claiming that Interstellar isn't as good as 2001, that it isn't the best movie they've ever seen, that it's not the greatest film of the year.  And while part of this defensiveness is based on the overreactions of those who loved it, saying that a film isn't the #1 movie of all time is showing everyone that you at least considered it.  This picture is at least great, at least provocative, and at the very least worthwhile.  It's been called ambitious and over-reaching, but that's exactly the point.  The story concerns humanity reaching beyond its limits, going into the unknown with only bravery at its side, and that's exactly what Nolan did here.  He went higher than perhaps he safely could, spread the film out when it would have been easy to keep it tight, made it larger than life knowing that every element wouldn't hit perfection.  Overambitious, yes, but the movie mirrors the plot, forcing audiences to go into the unknown right alongside the characters, making us pioneers as well.  It wasn't all beautiful, there were some rough patches, but isn't that part of the adventure?  To me the hardest part to accept was Jessica Chastain, who I dislike & think overacts.  But did she deter from the film?  No, she pushed me, she challenged me, and perhaps made me love the parts I enjoyed even more.

And going back to the idea of comparing this film with others in its genre, I don't see how anyone could call it a mediocre movie.  Critics loved Gravity, really liked Edge of Tomorrow, and only kinda like Interstellar?  Really?  I get that perhaps you don't think this film compares with the best sci-fi standards, but for someone who never bought into last year's hype, I think this movie makes Gravity look silly.  It has a scope that blows that one out of the water, a use of music & mood that is never cheap, a stunning barrage of imagery that makes Sandra Bullock floating around in space seem like child's play.  And perhaps this would be a good time to bring up the acting, which is light-years (pun intended) beyond that of Gravity or Edge of Tomorrow, which I actually really enjoyed.  But that's the point; Edge was very good, surprisingly so, I think most critics and audience members agree on that.  But I can't believe that Interstellar is inferior, that McConaughey was less effective than Cruise, or that the stunning visuals of this film won't follow you home and haunt your dreams.  Just because this is a hyped feature, an attempt at a masterpiece, doesn't mean that its failure to impress beyond measure indicates that it is a weak film.  Judging it against your favorites might make it seem so, but when held up against its genre associates, Interstellar shines.  It's an entertaining adventure on an epic scale, one that rarely slows down, and then only to allow us to catch our breath before plunging us back into the dark vacuum of space.  If you don't go in expecting the best film you've seen in 10 years, you just might find it.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Trailer - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson
Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen
Release: May 1st, 2015

I missed out on riding the Marvel wave.  I've never been into comic books or comic book movies, and so I never started watching the Avengers movies, but now that this one is out, I think I might have to go back and remedy that.  Don't scoff, I'm not trying to jump on the bandwagon, this movie just plain looks good, actiony & adventurey in a way that just might not be cheap.

Movie Review - Big Hero 6

Director: Don Hall, Chris Willams
Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Damon Wayans Jr.

Year: 2014

As someone who doesn't read comic books, Big Hero 6 is a Marvel team that I wasn't familiar with at all until the production of this film.  The X-Men, sure, I watched the TV show when I was kid.  The Avengers, a little bit, everyone knows a few of those guys.  The Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man; these heroes have been around forever and appear in dozens of video games, movies, and lunchboxes.  But Big Hero 6 was an unknown to me.  It's a superhero team from Japan that first appeared in Marvel comics in 1998.  They work for the government to keep the populace safe, and are made up of some members that you might have heard of through the X-Men storyline: Silver Samurai & Sunfire (who aren't included in this film), and a group of others who are.  So going in, I had no comic in mind to base the plot or characters on; it was a completely fresh slate for me.  I can only judge the movie from a Disney animated action perspective, and by that standard Big Hero 6 delivered.

Hiro & his brother Tadashi live in San Fransokyo in the future, a time of robots, technology, and the booming metropolis.  The brothers are both inventors, Tadashi experimenting at a local tech college, Hiro battling bots in illegal underground betting arenas.  But when Hiro begins to understand that his brother's school is the place to go if you want to enter the tech world, he starts to build a new invention that will earn him a roster spot.  He creates micro-bots, tiny machines that you can control with your mind, links that work together to build or become anything you can imagine.  This technology will change the world and everyone wants it.  But when a fire tragically destroys the micro-bots and Hiro's whole world, he gives up on the entire idea.  That is, until a masked man surfaces who seems to be in control of the lost micro-bots and prepared to use them for unknown & dangerous reasons.  Hiro, along with the nurse-bot Baymax, who Tadashi built, attempt to track down the evil man and stop him before his plan can succeed.

There's a lot that goes into the story; it makes for a crowded summary.  That's just the beginning of the film and doesn't even touch on Hiro's parents, Baymax's large role, the relationship between the brothers, and most importantly the other heroes.  The cast of characters make the movie, turning it into a team you root for instead of just another adventure.  Hiro of course, the little genius.  Baymax the helper who, with a little upgrade, becomes an unstoppable force.  Go Go, the speedster, too fast to catch.  Honey Lemon, a chemist, with a purse that produces potions of all sorts.  Wasabi, who's into physcis, and loves to keep tidy.  And lastly, Fred, the school mascot and local bro, someone who never freaks out and loves comics more than life itself.  The team together make for an exciting film, a genesis story loosely based on the original comic series.  Again, I didn't know the plot beforehand, so I have nothing to judge it against.  I assume die hard comic fans might have a problem with the direction this film went, but looking at it as a kids' movie, it worked.

It wasn't all wonderful though.  Some of the jokes were a bit lame, some were over kids' heads, and the usual balance that Disney strikes between grownup and youth was missing from this one.  It was more a movie made for 9-year-old boys and not a broad-reaching net that could trap us all in.  That said, as long as you're able to relax and let your inner action-figure-toting self take over, there's a story here that's exciting to watch.  The action was pretty non-stop, the pace was quick, the visuals were really cool, and I could watch Baymax fly around for hours.  And I guess, although the team aspect was vital, it was actually the connection between Hiro & his robot guardian that sucked me in.  That's where the heart was, and whenever the action slowed that storyline was there to hold up the emotion before the next big fight scene started.  Big Hero 6 is a fun movie, an adventure that isn't scary, that never slows down, that is sometimes funny, sometimes dumb, but always entertaining.  It won't go down as one of the greatest animated films of the decade, but it's definitely worth a watch with your son, daughter, or super-hero obsessed friend.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Gambler

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, John Goodman
Release: December 19th, 2014

I don't know how we could be expected to not watch this movie.  It's Marky Mark as a gambler.  I mean, that's cool, and I'm not being facetious.   It's cool because we all want to be gamblers, get the girl, outsmart the thugs, and walk away millionaires.  Now, I think this looks a little too much like Rounders, which is a phenomenal film, so take away some points for originality.  But go see this movie anyway; it'll be good.

Movie Review - Nightcrawler

Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Year: 2014

Jake Gyllenhaal went through a bit of a rough patch a few years back.  It started with Prince of Persia in 2010, continued with Love & Other Drugs, ended with Source Code.  These were not the types of roles that we had grown accustomed to from Jake.  Sure, after some edgier stuff that showed off his talent (Donnie Darko) he went on to do some Hollywood throwaway characters (The Day After Tomorrow).  But he has proven often enough that he has the ability to rise above the usual drivel, to deliver performances that blow away instead of leave empty.  And in 2013 he got back on track.  Prisoners, Enemy; two excellent films that showed Gyllenhaal's darker side, that gave him the chance to be an artist rather than a typical lead man.  Nightcrawler should have been another twisted dramatic that continued the trend, and while he pulled off perhaps his strangest character to date, Gyllenhaal couldn't save a movie that never had enough going for it to become great.

Louis Bloom; what a weirdo.  Broke, uneducated, but driven, Lou needs a job desperately and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  Lou is a fast learner, a deep study, a man who has no friends but plenty of time to research any topic that piques his interest.  And, randomly, the newest field that catches his eye is reporting.  Not just any reporting either, but first response video, ambulance chasing, in your face, film the dying guy journalism that crosses the line of decency and captures it all on film.  Lou finds that his lack of empathy makes him perfect for the job, and his quick study makes him knowledgeable about the news world.  Getting his foot in the door is easy, all he has to do is film blood & death, but staying one step ahead of the competition is a little harder.  Forcing a relationship with a local news director named Nina will help, and so will abandoning every shred of moral fiber that he might have possessed.  This isn't a job for the squeamish, but Lou, as they say, is a natural.

What an odd movie, with Jake Gyllenhaal's character leading the way.  Lou Bloom is a near-sociopath, someone who has no interest in the feelings off other, a person who sees goals as all-important, no matter what the cost.  It's a creepy role, a character that's really uncomfortable to watch because you have no idea what inappropriate thing he might say or do next.  And it isn't a case of his hiding the fact that he's focused to the point on insanity, it's obvious to see.  The point is he's good at his job, he's ruthless beyond measure, and that boosts ratings.  So it's a character that you're never supposed to like, aren't going to root for, know is bad news, but can't stop watching because insanity is a captivating thing.  Gyllenhaal becomes Bloom in an impressive fashion, putting aside his Hollywood looks & airs, giving in to the strange man who has the entire film on his back.  His acting is top notch, it makes for a good watch, and he is by far the strongest part of the picture.

It's all the rest that fails to wow.  Russo & Paxton will never be called A-class actors, and they show their lack of talent here.  They're background characters, one note performances, throwaway extras in a movie that's not about them.  They and the rest of the cast add almost nothing to the film, not detracting exactly, but not boosting the quality in any way.  In their defense, I'm not sure what they could have done.  The story was a bit heavy-handed and one-directional.  There was a point, but it was made fairly early, and the unfurling plot just lengthened the amount of time audiences had to sit before leaving.  This was Dan Gilroy's directorial debut and it showed, coming off as mediocre when what we wanted was something heftier.  He wrote the story as well, but if you want a great Gilroy script go watch The Fall (2006), an artistic masterpiece of a film that makes this one look amateur.  Nightcrawler was held up by Gyllenhaal, a talent that can't be denied, but it failed to impress in the areas it tried so hard in.  It ended up as a movie you walk out of and say, "well that was strange", but then don't give much more thought to.  I was originally surprised that this film wasn't getting much Oscar buzz; now I understand why.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Water Diviner

Director: Russell Crowe
Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney
Release: December 26th, 2014

Now Russell Crowe is directing himself?  He's never come off as a brilliant mind to me; a talent, sure, but not a genius.  I can't see him starring in a film that is his directorial debut without falling back on a film-ruining amount of standard & expected plotpoints, lines, and emotions.

Sports - NFL Picks 2014, Week 10

Here are my NFL Week 10 Picks
(9-4 last week, 87-46-1 for the season)
Bye teams: Hou, Ind, Min, NE, SD, Was

Cle @ Cin - The Bengals might have bungled a few games along the way, but they still have only two losses, swept the Ravens, and are unbeaten at home.  The Battle for Ohio is a big deal, more so while the Browns are actually playing like an NFL team, but Cinci shouldn't mess this one up.

Ten @ Bal - It's the AFC North that kills the Ravens, as they just lost to the Bengals & the Steelers.  Not the best way to win your division, but they still have hope.  After all, they get to play at home vs the 2-6 Titans who aren't in the Worst Team conversation, but probably should be.

KC @ Buf - Guess who has allowed the least points in the AFC this season?  It was Baltimore, but now it's Kansas City.  They take their defense on the road vs a Bills team that has played well under Kyle Orton but that doesn't have much home field advantage.  I'll go Chiefs, but barely.

Mia @ Det - Speaking of defenses, the Dolphins are #2 in points allowed in the AFC, the Lions are #1 in the NFC.  So should be a 9-6 ballgame, right?  No way, not with Detroit playing at home and getting Megatron back from injury.  I look for Miami to get behind early and stay there.

Dal @ Jax - Here's a game in London, one in which Tony Romo may or may not play.  Regardless, I think the Cowboys will return to DeMarco Murray & the run game.  They got stuffed vs Arizona, but Jacksonville is not nearly as stout against the run.  Weeden or Romo; Dallas gets the win.

SF @ NO - These are two very similar teams.  Both are 4-4, both should have much better defenses than they've shown, and both are still competitive.  The difference is in momentum & location; the Saints are hot right now and get to play in the Big Easy.  The Niners lose a tough one.

Pit @ NYJ - Could this possibly be an upset in the making?  Big Ben just threw 6 TDs in each of his last two game, while the Jets are the epitome of crap.  Seems like a blowout going the Steelers' way, and I'd bet it will be.  But man, sometimes teams that have nothing to lose don't.

Atl @ TB - Well, something's gotta give.  The Falcons are winless on the road, while the Bucs are winless at home.  Someone has to win, unless they tie I guess, which always sucks for everyone.  Mike Smith should be fired after this season, but maybe they win this game.  Who cares.

Den @ Oak - The Broncos can't call themselves the best team in the NFL anymore, not after that embarrassing loss to the Patriots.  Foxboro is just too tough a venue for that huge matchup, and Brady plays extra hard.  But last week aside, Denver will win in Oakland and Peyton will play mad.

STL @ Ari - This one could get ugly.  I know the Rams won last week vs the Niners, but that was more accident than effort; they're just not a very good team.  The Cards, on the other hand, play tough D, are undefeated in Arizona, and currently have a grip on the division.

NYG @ Sea - The Champs are very slowly getting back on track.  They lost a couple games, regrouped, and look ready to smash some people in the mouth again.  Enter Eli.  Poor guy, I'm worried what might happen to him in this one, he's just so fumbley.  G-men lose in a big way.

Chi @ GB - This might be the easiest game to pick.  Now, I think Cutler comes off the bye week & shows some improvement, especially Brandon Marshall's way.  But the Pack don't lose in Lambeau, the Bears don't win there, and GB is the better team in every phase of the game.  No-brainer.

Car @ Phi - Am I the only one who remembers that Mark Sanchez sucks?  All of the sudden he's the face of the Eagles, the QB that should have started Week 1, the precise pocket passer.  Umm, no.  He will tank sooner rather than later and, even though they're not good, the Panthers could benefit.