Monday, September 1, 2014
Way back at the end of June, I started a blogging relay for the ten most iconic female movie characters. If you've seen a relay or two floating around then you know the process is fairly simple. It is passed from one blogger to the next with each removing one character from the list and replacing it with one of their choosing. Things seemed all set for a whirlwind tour of the blogosphere and...
she sputtered out of the gate.
That's okay, though. It's recently picked up steam and is on a decent roll the last week or so.
As a quick refresher, here is the list as it was when I sent it out into the wild:
If you'd like to see my reasoning for including each of these ladies, click here for my original post. Since then, the list has gone through serious changes. You can follow along its path, here.
Here at Dell on Movies
Nostra at My Filmviews
Jaina at Time Well Spent
Ruth at FlixChatter
Eric at The Warning Sign
Dan at Public Transportation Snob
Martin at Martin Teller's Movie Reviews
Anna at Film Grimoire
Alex Raphael at Alex Raphael
I'll keep an eye on my girls while they're out cavorting with other bloggers and let you know just where they've been by updating this post as necessary.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Directed by John Turteltaub.
2013. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Robert De Niro
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson
The Flatbush Four are a quartet of guys who grew up together in Brooklyn and have become life long friends despite having moved away from each other. Now they're all senior citizens and are going to get together for one more big blowout. The occasion is that Billy (Douglas), seventy years young, is getting married to his thirty-two year old girlfriend. His buddies decide a trip to Vegas to throw him a bachelor party is in order. First on board is Sam (Kline). He's been married for years, but is apparently unhappy. At the very least, he's bored. His wife encourages him to go. She even lets him know he can truly be free this weekend because, as we know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Next is Archie (Freeman). He is on a laundry list of medication and doesn't get much more excitement than hanging out with his infant grandson. Therefore, he's chomping at the bit to feel alive again. The one reluctant party is Paddy (De Niro). He and Billy (Douglas) had a falling out years ago that he's never gotten over. The Sam and Archie manage to talk him into going, but he isn't happy about it one bit. Since we wouldn't have a movie if everything went according to plan, they don't. The Hangover for the AARP crowd ensues.
Early on, the movie has lots of fun establishing characters and exploring their various personal situations. Both Kline and Freeman display wonderful comic timing and deliver all of their punchlines perfectly, both verbal and physical. Both appear to be having a blast with their roles. The tone is then set that these two will carry most of the load in the comedy department. They are assisted in fairly regular intervals by Romany Malco who plays their host while in Vegas. Meanwhile, the emotional heft falls on the shoulders of Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro. Between them, there is much bickering that, in De Niro's case comes from a place of pain making him to lash out at the one who caused it. Mary Steenburgen gives a very nice performance as essentially the link between the two men. As for the other two, Douglas seems to be on cruise control, but De Niro does something interesting. Perhaps it's just because I've recently seen him in Grudge Match, but it was fascinating to see him play this particular part. This character maintains the hatred for someone else that as his part in Grudge Match, but completely changes motivations. In that movie, he was the one who caused the pain. Here he is on the receiving end. Admittedly, he doesn't do anything spectacular with it, but he does make it at least a little bit compelling watching this guy fail to let go of the past.
Like a lot of comedies, Last Vegas loses some steam when it turns to resolving its plot. Things get sappy between our warring buddies. Again, this movie mirrors Grudge Match. The love triangle is cleared up in similar fashion, leaving those of us who've seen both with a been there, done that feeling. The way the subplots play out involving Kline and Freeman are predictable, but play out a little better. In fact, everything that involves Kline and Freeman is a little better than the stuff with Douglas and De Niro. They're given more things to do besides trying to mend a friendship and engage us more. When their stories wrap up, it's easier to roll with whatever it is they're selling because we had a good time watching them. That isn't to say things are bad in regards to Douglas and De Niro, just more of the same stuff we've seen playing out in the same manner as it has in dozens of other films, whether you've seen Grudge Match, or not.
By the end, we have a movie that is actually pretty funny thanks to the effort of all the supporting players that slows down a bit whenever the focus is on the main plot. Thankfully, that isn't as often as it could have been since it wisely affords equal time to our four stars. It knows that it has two amazing performers in Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman and doesn't waste them. While it certainly falls short of turning the movie over to them, it definitely gives them room to operate. They do so very well. That storyline involving the other two names is adequate, but is certainly the inferior part of the film. Still, the ultimate criteria for a comedy is whether or not it makes me laugh. It did.
MY SCORE: 7/10
Friday, August 29, 2014
This post is part of the 1984-a-thon hosted by Todd at Forgotten Films.
The true pioneers of the culture are mostly between ten and fifteen years older than I. My uncle was one, in my eyes. You'll probably never hear or read about him unless it were something I said or wrote. Still, he DJ'd parties in our neighborhood that I was truthfully far too young to attend. On occasion, I managed to be in the place where it went down and heard many of the all time great rap songs for the first time because he spun them. Except he didn't just spin them. He also scratched them and mixed them with other records. Yes, actual records. If, at some point in your life, records were not the predominant medium on which you consumed music then everything I've written to this point is probably nothing more than myth to you. The same goes for those of you just not into hip hop. For me, this is concrete and very personal history.
Beat Street definitely has some of those type of moments. However, they're only going to be effective for people with knowledge of hip hop history. It's a blast to see Doug E. Fresh just kind of standing around as a party patron then later pop his head out of a curtain to add the only element of hip hop that was missing to that point, beat boxing. By the way, he was interrupting Kool Moe Dee and the Treacherous Three. Legendary break dancers, The Rock Steady Crew show up. Last, but not least, the man who many credit with birthing hip hop has a cameo, Clive "Kool Herc" Campbell. For some of us, that's as big as Stan Lee popping up in a movie featuring characters from Marvel Comics. Whether or not these moments measure up to Breakin', the honest truth is that this is the far superior, and more serious minded of the two. It's also more representative of hip hop as I grew up with it. This is a time when I was in my adolescence. At the same age, the culture was in its infancy Both of us were going through great changes and feeling our way in the world. People who called themselves grown-ups didn't take us seriously. Their answer to everything was that it was just a phase, something that would pass. They were unaware we would greatly impact the world in both positive and negative ways.
The movie itself is a perfect encapsulation of the New York I grew up in and the hip hop I was becoming more and more a part of with each passing day. Set in the South Bronx, it focuses on a quartet of friends with varying interest within the culture. Our main protagonist is Kenny, aka Double K (Guy Davis), a local DJ with a growing rep and who includes some freestyle rap into his act. His younger brother Lee (Robert Taylor), the spitting image of a very young Run of Run-DMC, is all about break dancing. The two live with their caring, but frustrated mother Cora (Mary Alice). Chollie (Leon W. Grant) is Kenny's friend and manager. Finally, there's Ramo (Jon Chardiet). He's a graffiti artist who lives for "bombing" trains. This means spray painting elaborate pictures on subway cars and the walls of subway stations. He has an on-going fued with a rival only known as Spit who vandalizes the vandalism. More important than any of this, Ramo has no job and his girlfriend has just recently had their first child. Eventually, the guys meet Tracy (Rae Dawn Chong). She and Kenny do the love story thing.
Having the movie take place during the dead of winter works wonders. The backdrops are all bleak. Piles of snow litter the landscape. It all serves to stress the idea that these are guys with the odds stacked against them, trying to make it in a cold world. Even the fact that much of the movie takes place over the last few weeks of the year when most of us are in a festive mood, we see Christmas pass and end on New Years' Eve, can't help the overall sense of struggle. However, it's not a joyless struggle. All of our heroes enjoy what they do so much as to live for it. They eat, sleep, and drink the particular element of hip hop they engage in.
What also helps is that there is a sense that these are indeed regular dudes. To compare it again to Breakin', it feels much more grounded in reality. Breakin' presents a world where breakers are the scourge of society and function like real deal street gangs. There is also a magical element as perhaps the most memorable scene is a dance routine by the character Turbo during which he levitates a broom stick and makes it dance without touching it. Finally, the clothing the characters wore feel like costumes. They're just over the top colorful and baggy, playing up the silliness of it all. Granted, I've never even been to Los Angeles, where Breakin' is set, but I can't recall a time when it was cool to wear any of the stuff these guys were rocking. Beat Street is quite the opposite. There are numerous dance crews here, but its clear that's all they are. They even dress alike, but its something that looks like you might actually see a bunch of guys all agree to wear. Other characters typically wear jeans, and sneakers. The most elaborate thing they wear are some serious scarfs. The biggest exception is when we see a few hip hop legends perform. Afrika Bambaata and the Soul Sonic Force wear their P-funk/three wisemen inspired gear. Grand Master Melle Mel and the Furious Five sport their jungle/space outfits. They fit in because that's what they actually wore when you see them perform in real life. Beat Street is also more grounded in comparison to another New York-centric hip hop flick that came out a year later, Krush Groove. That movie was a showcase for a roster of Def Jam artists. As such, the people involved were already larger than life to their fans. This film's cast of mostly unknowns adds to the feeling that these are just some guys from around the way.
Another factor that makes it a perfect vehicle for hip hop of the era is that it plays up the idea of being misunderstood. By 1984, the culture was well established, but still evolving rapidly, and not yet accepted by the mainstream as something that was here to stay. The movie expresses this a few different ways. Tracy is in involved with a traditional dance company and has access to all sorts of music equipment. She truly likes Kenny and even Lee, but she doesn't really "get" it. What they do is just some strange and amusing thing. In Lee's case, she and her friends basically exploit him. Ramo is constantly berated by his father who sees no value in graffiti. To him, it's nothing more than criminal activity. Speaking of criminal activity, this brings us back to Lee. Lee and plenty of his buddies in his crew, The Beat Street Breakers, are arrested in the subway during a close quarters dance battle that from afar might appear as a fight. Again, a misunderstanding. By the way, this might be the most truthful scene in the movie as this happened numerous times exactly the way it's depicted in real subways across the Big Apple in the 80s.
To be honest, revisiting this film for the first time as a somewhat seasoned movie buff, I can see that it's deeply flawed. The story meanders for nearly the entire run time. While its wonderfully re-enforcing the notion that hip hop is something misunderstood, and soon to be misappropriated, by the masses, the plot goes nowhere for a long period of time. The lengthy, mostly uneventful audition scene plopped into the middle of the movie doesn't really help. When the movie realizes it must do something, it really only wraps up one of the storylines we've been following for more than an hour and a half. When it does, what the movie says about this particular situation or that of any of the main characters is murky. It plays it as triumphant, but it's bittersweet, at best. At worst, it ends by reinforcing that sense of hopelessness I spoke of, earlier.
There are also some wooden performances. Our two main ladies, Rae Dawn Chong and Mary Alice, are clearly the class of the group. Alice moved on from Beat Street to later win both a Tony and an Emmy. Chong, yes daughter of that Chong, has a lengthy career that is still going. Both are good, here. Another lady, Saundra Santiago, is merely okay, but she's also managed to carve out a nice career. She's had stints on Miami Vice, The Sorpranos, One Life to Live, and currently plays on Gang Related. Guy Davis isn't bad, but lacks charisma. Robert Taylor has charisma, but lacks acting chops. His natural spunk carries him well enough. Jon Chardiet, on the other hand, is all around terrible. This is a problem given he has a healthy part.
In my heart of hearts, I'd say that this is not a great movie when viewed in a vacuum. The problems I detailed weigh heavily on the film's shoulders causing it to slouch and trudge toward the finish line rather than glide through it like a well executed moon walk. That said, I do think it's pretty good. However, when given the context of its place in hip hop history and how well it represents the average kids who adopted the culture as their own, it becomes a significant piece of film. It's even been credited with helping to introduce hip hop culture to various nations around the world. For that, I'd say it's a lot more than a bit contributor to the idea that 1984 might be the greatest year in the history of film. On a more personal note, Beat Street is a movie that represents my experience and that of people I grew up with better than any other about the culture. It speaks directly to me. As a sidenote, this is one of the first movies I went to without an adult present. My friends and I watched this, then snuck into the adjacent theater showing The Karate Kid. Yeah, I like The Karate Kid, and I've seen it four or five times. I LOVE Beat Street, flaws and all. I've loved it every one of the more than dozen plus times I've seen it and I'll love it every time I watch it for the rest of my life.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Hello boys and girls. We've landed on another Thursday. It's that day when I suggest a trio of movies to you based on a theme selected by Wanderer over at Wandering Through the Shelves. It's a wonderful weekly meme that she cooked up and I've had a blast taking part in. Last week, we had more participants than ever. Feel free to join in and help us break that record.
This week's theme was a tough one for me and a change of pace for the meme. Instead of just writing about three movies, we're asked to pick three "dramatic" scenes.
That's awfully vague. Therefore, I'll apologize in advance in case the scenes I pick aren't dramatic enough.
Usually, I go with three hidden gems. This week, I'm going to go with one I love, one I hate, and one hidden gem. Why? Because Wanderer said I could, that's why.
I'll start with my hidden gem. This is a big moment for me because I am about to do something I have rarely done in my entire life: praise a Tyler Perry movie. It comes from For Colored Girls, by far his most ambitious effort. Overall, it ends up just shy of hitting its mark. Even though that's the case, because it is a film where the director is stretching his boundaries I'm certainly willing to revisit and reconsider it (my full review, here). Within this is a cameo by singer Macy Gray. She plays a woman who gives abortions right out of her apartment and is paid a visit by one of the main characters. Trust me, this isn't a woman you want doing anything medical to you. I'm not sure how it plays out of context, but within the movie it's an insanely tense two minutes. It's perhaps the best scene Mr. Perry has ever filmed. In case you're unfamiliar with the movie and the dialogue sounds a little strange, it's because it's adapted from an extended dramatic poem and adapts long stretches of it verbatim.
The reason I started with the hidden gem because the scene that I love and the one I hate are related even though they are from two different movies. To begin with, they were both filmed by the same director, Michael Mann. In fact, they're actually the same scene.
Okay, let me explain.
As far as I'm concerned, the crown jewel in Mann's filmography is the three hour, but still thrilling 1995 movie Heat starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The key information here is the names of the two stars. Here's the deal: Heat is actually a remake of an earlier Mann movie, L.A. Takedown from 1989, that was actually a TV movie that was an unsuccessful pilot for a potential series. It was later given a DVD release after the success of Heat. Neither Pacino or De Niro appeared in that movie. One of the most famous scenes in Heat is the one where Pacino, the good guy is sitting in a diner with De Niro, the bad guy. The two have a tense conversation that serves as a turning point for the film. The exact same scenario plays out in L.A. Takedown. It features Scott Plank as our good guy, or the Pacino role and Alex McArthur as the bad guy, or the De Niro role. Let's just say, neither guy is giving an Oscar worthy portrayal. Just take a look...
Bad acting. Acting is bad.
You'll probably never get McArthur's unblinking death stare out of your head. Sorry 'bout that. Let's just watch the pros do it and call it a day.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.
2013. Rated R, 97 minutes.
John Gallagher Jr.
Grace (Larson) is a twenty-something supervisor at a group home for troubled teens. She cares deeply for the kids she works with and for her boyfriend Mason (Gallagher Jr.), who also works there. Her problems are as follows: the kids are troubled and she doesn't communicate well with her boyfriend about their relationship. We engage Grace on both of those fronts. Among the kids, we focus on Marcus (Stanfield) and Jayden (Dever). Marcus is about to age out of the program and is very reluctant to be going home. Jayden is a new arrival with a ton of baggage and a horrible attitude. The poor girl doesn't even like her name. As for Mason, Grace's reluctance to share is putting a serious strain on things. Emotions ensue.
Through Grace's eyes we get to know all of the main characters and, more importantly, empathize with them. We also come to understand how troubled she is, herself. Through the performances of these characters, they become well-rounded people who have complex relationships with the realities of their lives. Keith Stanfield, who plays Marcus, shows us a kid who is going through a massive internal struggle. Physically, he doesn't appear able to express his feelings. Whatever is lurking within him only comes out in nervous bursts of energy brought about by the slightest agitation. Mentally, we learn that he communicates much better through his writing. Jayden also has issues communicating. Like Marcus, the things that are bothering her are not things she willingly speaks about. Instead, she's internalized it and now guards it by keeping everyone at arms' length. Kaitlyn Dever is remarkable in the role. Both she and Stanfield give us people that we just hurt for.
If you can't tell, communication is a big theme. Short Term 12 hammers home the point that things would be a lot better if were able to articulate our problems and had people to listen to us. Not only is this the case with Marcus and Jaden, but for the relationship between Grace and BF, as well. At each point along the way, things take a step forward when something is shared. Things take a step backward when information is withheld. We see it time and again throughout the film. It's a tactic that works very well to get us, and keep us, emotionally involved in what's going on. Basically, we're put on a roller-coaster which is what Grace seems to be experiencing every single day. Brie Larson handles the role with aplomb. It takes a good deal of self-assuredness to present us with someone who has none and make it believable. She does this with ease. We fully buy into the notion that she is as troubled as the teens she works with. The only issue with her performance is not actually something she does wrong. It's more that she ridiculously outclasses John Gallagher Jr. as her love interest. He gives the occasional comic relief, but most often is "just a guy." More accurately, he's just a guy who happens to be channeling John Krasinski. I'm rather indifferent toward Krasinski, who generally gives us unmemorable nice guys. This is precisely the way Gallagher plays the role. He's not bad. He just doesn't feel like an essential person.
To drive the point home about communication, we have Sammy (Calloway). He's a character who rarely speaks and most often just takes off running in an effort to get away from the group home. His existence serves as a metaphor. The people who don't, or can't communicate effectively are merely running from their problems. However, Sammy never gets away. The suggestion is that none of us can get away from our problems merely by running from them. We must turn and face them if we are to overcome them. It's a character wonderfully handled by director Destin Daniel Cretton. Sammy is a minor player in the grand scheme of things, plotwise. On the other hand, he's a brilliant summation of the film's entire point.
Eventually, the movie lessens its own impact by insisting on finding the silver lining in every cloud. Things happen very near the end that suggests there is still much work to do. For me, this would be the more honest conclusion. For an hour and a half, we've been presented with complicated issues. Complicated issues rarely have simple solutions. Short Term 12 tries to pretend that they do. It feels like the filmmakers shying away from the truth to give us the pie in the sky. It seems to say, 'yeah, there is work left to do, but don't worry. Everyone lives happily ever after.' It intends this to make itself into a feel-good story. However, it comes off as a movie in denial of the truth it had been giving us until it suddenly decided to flinch.
MY SCORE: 7.5/10
Monday, August 25, 2014
Summer is winding down. The kids are getting ready to head back to school, if they haven't already gone. That makes this the perfect time for my next blogathon!
Of course, this will have something to do with school.
Bloggers, you are tasked with creating your very own movie class using characters from as many different films as you wish (almost). We will also include someone to run the school and someone to run the class. The rules are as follows:
1. Choose at least 1 character to fit into each of the following roles:
Administrator (either a dean, principal, head master, or some other equivalent)
Invisible Girl (aka not popular girl)
Of course, include a few words on why each character was chosen.
Some of the categories have slashes because there is a lot of overlap within. However, feel free to break those up to make your class even larger. For instance if you use a jock who is a nice guy, you can also include a bully. As long as you have the minimum number of students and others, your class can be as large as you like.
2. There are NO RESTRICTIONS on age. Theoretically, you can have Zach from Kindegarten Cop in the same class as Rodney Dangerfield's character from...um...Back to School
3. You can use multiple characters from a single movie, but a class must be made up of characters from at least three separate movies.
4. Use movies in which school is an important part of the plot or are largely set in a school.
5. Finally, use my banner somewhere in your entry and link back to this post.
I'm setting the deadline for September 21, 2014. Leave a link to your entry below in the comments section. On the 22nd, I will create a post highlighting all the participating entries.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Directed by Paul Middleditch.
2013. Rated R, 85 minutes.
John Francis Daley
If you're familiar with the Bible then you know that after the Rapture, things on Earth go haywire. Well, that's where we are. Much of the population has vanished from the planet and taken up residence in Heaven. Those left behind have to deal with locusts, blood rain, falling meteorites, wraiths, and yes, The Anti-Christ in the form of Earl Grundy (Robinson) who prefers to be called, what else, The Beast. He's taken over the U.S. government, dropped nukes on Chicago and Orlando among other places around the world. Now, he's living in Seattle and has taken a liking to local girl Lindsey (Kendrick). Not being the sort of girl that goes for bad boys, but one that does have a boyfriend, she turns him down flat. Unfortunately, you just can't tell the Anti-Christ no. He gives her an ultimatum. Either she marries him or he will kill everyone in her family. She has eight hours to decide. What's a girl to do?
Immediately, we start down the path of religous satire. It's meant to be a rather irreverent one, at that. No problem. A number of good movies have successfully taken on organized religion. Even if you're a devout follower of one or another, you have to admit it's a big target. From time to time, someone is going to take a shot at it. Sadly, even if you were nodding off reading up to this point, nothing as interesting as this review happens in Rapture-Palooza. I'm not just tooting my own horn, either. Travel around to as many different sites and read as many different reviews as you want. I promise every one of them will be far more intriguing than this movie.
Our heroes are just plain bland, and yes, I purposely put two synonyms next to each other for emphasis. Anna Kendrick sleepwalks through her role in the lead. John Francis Daley, who plays her boyfriend Ben, whines his way through his. I really wanted to slap him. Hard. Twice. At least. As our villain, Craig Robinson pretty much does what Craig Robinson does. He isn't necessarily bad, just failed by the writing of his character. In a movie meant to spoof Christianity, the character of the Anti-Christ is ripe with possibilities. There are so many depths to be mined. However, this movie is content to have him talk dirty, really dirty, to Anna Kendrick. Further robbing the character of any power, his behavior, and his race merely exploit stereotypes in hopes of getting cheap laughs. It doesn't. Instead, it just plays like white guy paranoia. Literally, it feels like it's a movie about a big evil black guy out to take an innocent white woman from her loving white boyfriend. That their grand solution is trying to lock him up doesn't help matters. Oops, spoiler alert...not really.
Believe it or not, there are actually three potentially interesting characters in the movie. The first is Lindsey's mom Lora (Gasteyer). She was taken during the rapture, but was sent back. All she gets to do is cry. A loud, fake "movie" cry. Let's move on. Next is Mr. Murphy (Lennon). He's become a zombie, but doesn't try to eat anyone. Neither do any of the other zombies, but that's beside the point. Mr. Murphy seems to have a story that's begging to be told. He just pushes an imaginary lawn mower until he gets a real one. Sigh. Finally, Ben's dad Walt (Corddry). He's one of the few who has managed to make a nice living and has done so by working for The Beast. Hmmm....could be a complex character that gives us some food for thought. Nope. His job is to repeatedly urge Lindsey to marry his boss. Ugh. At least we get an unfunny cameo from Ken Jeong. SMH.
Here is where I usually try to wrap up my review with a nice tidy conclusion summarizing all of my thoughts on the movie. On a good day, I'll end it with a clever sentence. This ain't a good day, boys and girls. Rapture-Palooza sucks and I've spent far too much time on it.
MY SCORE: 0/10