Monday, May 20, 2013
I think Shane Carruth fancies himself a sci-fi version of Terrence Malick. Yet, I think I prefer To The Wonder over this. Primarily, Carruth intentionally or not apes some Malick visuals, but, overall, Upstream Color is not as great to watch as Malick's cinematography.
Despite the word being in the title, color is not as pronounced or as interesting in Carruth's visuals. Ironically, Carruth focuses more on sound. A general wave of emotion is conveyed through the soundtrack. Carruth even provides way more dialogue than Malick, much of it functioning as narration, but still I was able to glean more from Malick's virtual wordlessness than I did anything that Carruth does.
Oddly, I had the same problem here as I did with Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects. The first third of the movie is quite compelling, but then it takes a turn and the rest of it becomes messy. Upstream Color begins as a thriller, a kidnapping and brainwashing scheme to get money. Instead of digging deeper into this thriller plot or expanding it further, Carruth drops it for a half-hearted love story and really odd metaphor.
The image that Carruth invokes equating humans to guinea pigs is a good one. Besides the visual comparison, Carruth does little more with it. Carruth shows the connection that humans can and do have to animals, but there seems to be no purpose to making that connection. Given that one of Carruth's characters quotes Henry David Thoreau, the purpose might be to get us to appreciate nature, as Thoreau did, but so what?
Malick's To The Wonder had considerably less narrative than Carruth, but I was never bored by the images Malick strung together, even when he was being highly repetitive. When Carruth was being blatantly repetitive, I got quickly bored to death.
Amy Siemetz stars as Kris, a young woman who becomes the unwilling victim of an experiment-turned-manipulation. She has her life upended, but she meets Jeff, played by Shane Carruth, who seems to be another victim of the same experiment. The two fall in love. Never am I totally convinced of that love. The movie intercuts with another random couple, a sound recordist, as well as the life and times of some pigs.
It doesn't help that a few of the main characters act like puppets, but a lot of it feels wooden with not a lot of emotion. I never cared or had much affection for these people.
Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
|Matthew McConaughey (left) and|
Tye Sheridan in "Mud"
When writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) introduces us to the two prepubescent boys at the center of his coming-of-age tale, they aren't all that likeable. From the dialogue, they're already objectifying women, talking about female body parts when it's obvious they wouldn't know what to do with them. They're cursing with reckless abandon and they don't have much respect for other life forms.
Newcomer Jacob Lofland plays Neckbone, a tough little cracker who hangs out with his friend on the summer days in Arkansas and spends time clamming with his uncle Galen, played by Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), who sits under water with a self-made diving helmet. When he's not waiting for Galen to surface, Neckbone is wearing a "Fugazi" T-shirt and he's by the side of his best friend, Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan who reminds me of a young Brad Renfro from The Client (1994).
Both Ellis and Neckbone sail to an island where there's a boat in a tree and a man nicknamed Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey, living in it. One can imagine that a tornado probably placed the boat atop the branches, but no explanation is given or can be inferred as to how Mud himself got there in the first place. It takes Ellis and Neckbone a while and a motor boat to get to the island in the middle of the Mississippi River, but there's no indication as to how Mud did it.
Mud uses Ellis and Neckbone as his couriers or postmen basically, but at first it's not clear why they would. Ellis, particularly, seems drawn to Mud like a moth to a flame. Even before the bombshell his parents drop and even before the stakes of Mud's romantic future are established, Ellis is attracted to Mud inexplicably.
Ellis seems to have a hero complex within him. When he sees a teenage girl at odds with an elder boy, Ellis feels the need to intervene and in effect defend the girl and in his mind help her. Whatever it is inside Ellis, he needs to help people and then oddly enough falls in love with those he seeks to rescue. He then justifies any further actions with the reasoning that he's doing it for love, even if it means hurting people, even if it means committing a crime.
The problem is that Ellis might not know what love is. His parents, Senior and Mary Lee, played respectively by Roy McKinnon and Sarah Paulson, are no great example. The men who surround Ellis emanate a general sense of misogyny. Men are always mistreating or bad talking women over and over. If that's an echo of the area, then Nichols certainly reverberates it.
Things become muddled when Nichols decides to cap his film with a violent shootout, and he expects us to follow one side clearly over the other side. He paints the other side in an odd light or else a darker light with odd religious undertones that are probably trying to portray the other side in a way that makes it out to be a hypocrite or just plain evil. Nichols then has that other side go to ridiculous extremes at the end, and I didn't get why.
Reese Witherspoon plays an ex-girlfriend to Mud named Juniper and I get the point of her character or rather what function she serves in the narrative. Her presence there though never made sense.
A lot of people have been talking up Matthew McConaughey and his recent rash of film roles. McConaughey had become a joke and the punchline was something to the effect of the dumb romantic comedies he had done starting in the 2000s. Yet, his role in The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), which harkened back to his powerful performance in A Time to Kill (1996), signaled a change that would make McConaughey no longer a joke. Last year saw the release of four films, all featuring or starring McConaughey, including Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike and The Paperboy. Now with Jeff Nichols' Mud, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, people are really calling for McConaughey to get an Oscar nomination, but I'm not ready to jump on that bandwagon.
If I'm ready to jump on any bandwagon, it's the child actor bandwagon. Last year was notable for the growing love for not only Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum but also for the growing love of child actors being seen again as powerful rivals to even the eldest of Academy Award nominees. This was certainly true of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was also true of Thomas Doret in The Kid With a Bike, Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi and Jared Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom.
Also add to the child actor bandwagon Tye Sheridan whose debut was in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011). Sheridan's performance is superb here. It's too bad that I didn't go for the True Grit (2010) ending.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual references, language and smoking.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
|Kate Del Castillo (left) and|
Goran Visnjic in "K-11"
Goran Visnjic (ER and Red Widow) stars as Raymond Saxx who is in prison, charged with murder. He's placed in a special unit in the prison that's populated with a cast of colorful characters that's mostly distinguished by their sexual preferences or sexual identities. Raymond first meets Butterfly, a crazy inmate who looks like a girl but who is actually a boy named Bobby.
Raymond then meets Mousey, played by Kate Del Castillo, a transgendered woman too. She's essentially the gang leader who rules over the other inmates in the prison as if she's queen. There is an underground drug trafficking operation, which Mousey also controls. She's able to do so with the help of a prison guard named Lt. Gerald Johnson, played by D.B. Sweeney, who is a drug addict himself and apparently gay or just lecherous and perpetually horny.
Stewart makes Lt. Johnson such a cartoon. He's so ridiculous. His blatant behavior with regard to sex and drugs would and should be obvious to any and everyone, and other prison guards seem completely oblivious. The space where this special unit is seems very small and there's glass where the guards have a plain view. Yet, things like brutal murders and even rapes can occur and the guards are dumbfounded.
At least in the show Oz, the writers made somewhat of an effort for the inmates to get away with murders and rapes within the prison. Here, Stewart barely crosses that hurdle. I'm not exactly sure what Stewart was trying to do. Tom Fontana, the creator of Oz, had multiple purposes, but those purposes were always clear. Stewart's purposes here aren't clear.
One Star out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
|Bradley Cross (left) and Joe Gosling|
share a kiss in "Dream On"
Dream On was a stage play, which Eyre-Morgan directed, but this is his first feature film, and here he does make you feel as if we've actually time-traveled back almost 30 years. It might be comically so or over-the-top with the clothes, the hair, the Polaroid pictures, the head bands and the boom boxes stereotypically on someone's shoulder. Some might feel as if Eyre-Morgan is drowning us in 80s culture, but the story almost needs for him to submerse us.
Eyre-Morgan himself compares Dream On to Beautiful Thing (1996), another play adapted into a film about two boys coming of age and falling in love, one of which has daddy issues and the other has mommy issues.
Bradley Cross plays Paul, a teenage boy from northern England in 1988. He lives near Manchester, but he goes with his mum on holiday to a Wales campsite. He's supremely shy. In fact, he seems like he's constantly terrified. When he speaks, he always quivers and shakes like a leaf. He doesn't seem to have a lot of confidence. He basically does whatever his mum tells him.
Joe Gosling plays George, a fellow 16-year-old boy from London who wears a mullet and hangs out at the campsite by himself waiting for his dad. He lures Paul into his tent with the promise of Spider-Man comic books. He immediately tries to get Paul to steal money, but it's never framed in an overtly criminal way. George is of course very talkative, very brash, very bold and very confident.
The two eventually sleep together. Yes, there are tender moments where Eyre-Morgan frames Paul and George intimately, either in the tent or elsewhere. Paul is always staring at George, but it gets to a point where Paul's affection is clearly one sided. A bar scene even ends with Paul literally running after George.
All the while, there is an inverse trajectory for both Paul and George. One character rises, while one falls. Abandonment and alcohol abuse are two issues that are battled, and the core becomes shaped into this story of a person pursuing a dream and his idea of perseverance, of saying what you want and not giving up when going after it.
Dream On opens at the Hackney Picturehouse in London in June. It will be released on DVD, available at stores and Amazon UK on June 10.
Go to the film's Facebook page or TLA Video for more release dates or places where the movie will be made available.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
|Michael Rainey, Jr. (left) and Common in "LUV"|
The movie opens with a scene that is reminiscent of the opening to Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), which is itself reminiscent to various scenes from Terrence Malick. A naked, 11-year-old boy is wandering around in the woods and the boy's name is Wood. The camera of course follows behind Wood, as he walks. There's a scene toward the end of the movie where Wood has to learn how to eat crabs by cracking them open by hand that is also reminiscent to Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Michael Rainey, Jr. plays Wood, the 11-year-old boy in question. Grammy-winner and rapper Common stars as Vincent, the uncle who decides to drive Wood to school this day. After Wood tells Vincent a lie, Vincent changes his plans and takes Wood away from school in order to teach the little boy a lesson and how to be a man. It means Wood accompanies Vincent as he runs various errands.
As Vincent runs the errands, he drives around Baltimore visiting man after man, making this movie a who's-who of great African-American male actors young and old. This includes Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Russell Hornsby, Michael Kenneth Williams and Charles S. Dutton, basically playing the opposite of what he played in Menace II Society. The way that Vincent talks to Wood in the car initially, I thought I knew where this movie was going, but it actually ends up being the anti-Boyz N the Hood (1991) with a semi-over-the-top, Shakespearean climax.
The reason it's the anti-Boyz N the Hood is because in John Singleton's directorial debut, Laurence Fishburne's character mentors a young boy too but mentors him not to fall into criminal activity or street life. Here, Common's character mentors a young boy to do the opposite. Basically, Vincent encourages Wood into doing bad things.
Unlike with Road to Perdition, the ultimate goal here is more productive and positive. Vincent wants to open his own restaurant. It's a risky investment, but the denial of a bank loan results in carnage. It's an example of how on the edge many black men are. Common does a good job of walking that edge and Candis does a good job of showing how a good man could easily fall on the wrong side.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence, language, child endangerment and some drug content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.
|Lance Gross in "The Last Fall"|
Lance Gross (House of Payne and Steel Magnolias) stars as Kyle Bishop, a NFL player who gets cut from his team and is told by his agent that no other team wants him. Because not all football players are multi-millionaires or have tons of endorsement deals and because some only get five-figure salaries with no benefits, when Kyle gets cut and has no prospects, he is left in a poor and pathetic position.
Cherry opens the film with an alarming statistic. 78 percent of all professional football players are divorced, bankrupt or unemployed two years after leaving the game. Cherry was inspired to explore this statistic in the wake of the NFL lockout in 2011. He saw people had this idea about players, a stereotype that all players are living large, a stereotype that is mostly wrong, so he wanted to show the other side. He wanted to show that not all players are living large. Some players have to struggle, but the question is who's fault is that?
Cherry himself was cut, but he had a good degree and he was able to apply that degree. Cherry himself was even able to apply that degree to the film industry, a tough industry to break. Kyle doesn't seem to have a degree, an education or a skill that he can then use in light of his football career going away. Cherry didn't seem to be as big of a star as Kyle is, so the realization that the football career may not be as long and great as he might hope came to Cherry quicker than it comes to Kyle who seems completely dumbstruck.
Even though Cherry doesn't hammer home this idea, the importance of African-American men getting an education or learning a trade is vital. Kyle reiterates the sentiments of many African-American men who pursue careers in sports. The sentiments are not really that of loving the game but that of needing a way out of the hood or out of poverty that results in a lot of cash quickly and what some might think easily.
Obviously, a lot of young men use sports to pay for college, but for those who are recruited out of high school or before finishing a graduate degree, let The Last Fall be a cautionary tale. Yet, Cherry is clearly a romantic at heart, and I don't think he would ever argue against someone pursuing something he loves, but the point of this movie is to show that perhaps football isn't something that Kyle truly loves.
Cherry proves that by pitting Kyle against two things that he does truly love. One is Faith Davis, played by Nicole Beharie. Faith is Kyle's high school sweetheart who now is a single mother. Once Kyle sees her, he immediately wants to rekindle things. The other is Marie Bishop, Kyle's mother, played by Vanessa Bell Calloway. Marie is currently a single mother. Marie is still raising Kyle's younger sister, Chris. Kyle sees how she struggled and wants to find a way to give back. He really burdens himself and in fact feels obligated to do so.
What this movie does is establish Lance Gross as a movie star. He's done mostly Tyler Perry productions, mainly on television, but this is by far his best performance. Obviously, Lance Gross is one of the sexiest African-American actors in his age group out there right now. I even argued as much in my review of Tyler Perry's Temptation (2013), but what Cherry does is give Gross a lot of great scenes to highlight his acting ability.
It's easy for Gross to look at Nicole Beharie who is very reminiscent of Kerry Washington who has taken the mantle as being the sexiest African-American female working right now and show how much he loves her. Beharie is beautiful, so it's easy to give her looks of love. What Gross does better is give looks showing how much he doesn't love football, and you feel the weight of the world that he puts on his shoulders, and you get how heavy that burden is.
Cherry also writes great little scenes where Kyle and other characters talk open and honestly. One scene where Kyle has to speak in front of a 2nd grade class is perfect. There's only a slight drop of melodrama to kick things into gear, but it's not over-the-top, as you would get in a Tyler Perry film. This is a great debut for Matthew A. Cherry. He is one to watch and Lance Gross is gorgeous. His last name does not describe him at all.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
|Lizzy Caplan (left), Kirsten Dunst (center)|
and Isla Fisher in "Bachelorette"
Throughout that space of time, various men are introduced who either affect the women positively or negatively. Ultimately, the movie is about how the women relate to one another, how they perceive what they want and how they go about achieving that. In between, there's a lot of drugs and dildos, dresses and dances.
The directorial debut of Leslye Headlund who is also the screenwriter adapting her own play is able to get at the follies and damages of these women. She culminates it in a pretty incredible sequence at the end that is manic and crazy, but energetic, fun and even heartbreaking. Basically, all Hell is on the verge of breaking loose and does do to some extent, and all the women are thrown into it and have to deal with it, and Headlund handles it all with a great stride.
Adam Scott (Party Down and Parks and Recreation) co-stars as Clyde, one of Dale's groomsmen who is also Gena's ex-boyfriend. I am a fan of Adam Scott. Despite the fact that his character has to be pulled out of a strip club, he is the guy that makes you fall in love with him.
James Marsden (X-Men and Enchanted) co-stars as Trevor, the best man in the wedding who is a sexy womanizer but is also a bit slimy. Kyle Bornheimer who co-starred with MacArthur in the short-lived TV series Worst Week and Perfect Couples plays Joe, a sweet and slightly awkward guy who becomes interested in Katie but has a difficult time trying to keep the party girl grounded.
Andrew Rannells (The New Normal) and Horatio Sanz (Saturday Night Live) both have brief but memorable scenes. The blooper reel on the DVD features shows Sanz doing a little improvisation and being quite funny. Headlund's commentary is also really great, as she compares making a movie to birthing and raising a child. Her love of oral sex as well as her inspirations and allusions to films are included. You'll hear how her movie references, films ranging from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to The Shining (1980), are incorporated in this great debut.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.