Sunday, November 23, 2014

“Monk With A Camera”– Movie Review



This weekend, I attended a screening at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center of the new documentary “Monk With A Camera”. 


When a man from a privileged background turns his back on his family’s wealth in order to become a monk, can he find a rewarding life in work that is foreign to most in the western world?


Nicky Vreeland seemed to have the perfect life.  As the grandson of Diana Vreeland, former editor of Vogue Magazine, he developed an acute awareness of fashion; growing up, he turned into something of a fop.  Nicky’s father, Frederick, was a diplomat; as a result, he had a childhood that provided the rare opportunity for him to live in a number of different countries around the world.  Eventually, his family settled down; when they returned to America, they lived in New York and Nicky was sent to a boarding school.  Even though Nicky was around boys his own age, he was still something of an outsider, being unfamiliar with the culture and lacking the frame of reference within which they were raised in this society.

In his adolescence, Nicky was also fortunate in the regard that he had a great many female friends who enjoyed his company.  As far as his career, however, he developed an interest in photography and, thanks in no small part to his grandmother, was able to secure work as a photographer through a connection to Richard Avedon, the renowned fashion photographer whose work frequently appeared in Vogue Magazine.  It would seem that Nicky’s life was all set, except for one thing:  he was restless.  Nicky believed that there was something more to be experienced in life and that’s what set him out to seek a life as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. 

From the late 1970’s, Nicky served as a monk at a monastery located in India; exhibiting an earnest discipline rare among westerners, he soon gained respect by both his peers and superiors alike.  Many years later, when his monastery needed to expand, he sought out his family’s friends to make generous contributions – but when The Great Recession hit in late 2008, they found they were no longer able to honor their pledges.  Needing money with the monastery partially built, he returned to his love of photography; Nicky took pictures of various locations and put them in an exhibit to raise money to complete construction.  Having raised $400,000 to complete the job, The Dalai Lama named him Abbot of the monastery. 


No doubt about it, the story of Nicky Vreeland forsaking his family’s wealth in favor of a substantially more modest and spiritual lifestyle is certainly compelling.  This, of course, begs the quite reasonable question of what in the world Richard Gere has to do with any of this?  Gere, allegedly a devout Buddhist, appears in the film and granted an interview about Vreeland.  Originally, he agreed to appear at one of the screenings to help promote the movie, but subsequently (and mysteriously) withdrew.  Whether that’s because he saw a final cut of the documentary and didn’t care to lend his support to it or because he had a better offer, we’ll never know. 

As a documentary, it is a story well told, with a beginning, middle and end.  How much footage was shot in order to tell this story (and how much was discarded in the editing process), would be interesting to know.  Nevertheless, it is well-structured; we are given a clear understanding of Vreeland’s not-so-humble beginnings as well as his introduction to Buddhism; as he displays a deep commitment to this lifestyle and beliefs, he acquires greater “street-cred” in this community.  Upon showing how he could muster the finances required to complete the monastery and temple, The Dalai Lama meets him at a swank hotel room in Long Beach, California (crashed by Gere) and bestows upon him the title of Abbot in a fitting conclusion to the story. 

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session between the audience and the film’s co-directors, Tina Mascara, Guido Santi and Vreeland himself.  When asked about Gere’s appearance in the documentary, Mascara said that he was attending a class instructed by The Dalai Lama, who invited him to attend the ceremony where Vreeland was made an Abbot.  She claimed that originally, they did not set out to make a movie about Vreeland himself; rather, their intention was to shoot a documentary about Westerners who became monks – when they kept coming upon Vreeland’s name, they knew that was where there story had to be. 


Monk With a Camera (2014) on IMDb

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“Take Care”– Movie Review


take care

This week in my movie class, we saw the romantic comedy “Take Care” starring Leslie Bibb and Thomas Sadoski.


Following an accident, a woman is forced to ask her ex-boyfriend to look after her until she recovers – but will their renewed friendship threaten his new relationship?


Incurring injuries after being hit by a car, Frannie (Bibb) returns home only to find that with a broken arm and leg she’s unable to care for herself.  Although she has friends and family not far away, Frannie quickly comes to the bitter realization that she cannot rely on them to help her.  Running out of options, Frannie reluctantly calls on Devon (Sadoski), her ex-boyfriend who now lives with his new girlfriend, Jodi (Betty Gilpin).  Although Devon is hesitant to agree, Frannie finally convinces him to do so when she reminds Devon that when they were together,she dutifully cared for him when he was ill. 

Every day for weeks, Devon checks in on Frannie, feeding her, taking her to doctor appointments, shampooing her hair and performing various other tasks.  During this time, Jodi grows increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of her boyfriend spending so much of his spare time with his ex-girlfriend; becoming understandably insecure, she expresses great concern that they are drifting apart the more Devon is with Frannie, depriving Jodi of his companionship.  Eventually, the inevitable occurs; with Devon and Frannie being around each other so much, they start to rekindle romantic feelings once again. 

Ultimately, Jodi finds out that this whole thing is rapidly spinning out of control and she is genuinely in danger of losing her man.  Finally, Jodi confronts Frannie about this and accuses her of delaying her recovery in order to steal Devon away from her.  Although Devon strenuously denies that Frannie is doing any such thing, Jodi doesn’t believe him; seeing how this arrangement is apparently driving a wedge in between Devon and Jodi, Frannie tells Devon that it is probably in everyone’s best interest if he were to stop immediately.  But as Frannie gradually recuperates, will Devon and Jodi be able to resume their relationship or have things gone too far by now?


While there may be women who cringe at the term “Check Flick”, would it be any better to refer to a movie like this as “Girl Porn”?  Either way is an accurate description of “Take Care”.  Although a film that would obviously have great appeal for a female audience, you might not want to force your man to sit through this because there’s very little there that would appeal to him.   For something that is categorizing itself in the genre of Romantic Comedy, there’s a surfeit of “romantic” and a dearth of “comedy”; “Take Care” is either not very funny or not funny frequently enough, depending on your perspective. 

Why “Girl Porn”?  Thematically, “Take Care” focuses on an idea that captivates a number of women:  payback for a perceived injustice by a former lover.  Here, not only does Frannie get Devon to admit that he did her a disservice, she tries to win him back, effectively attempting to take him from another woman to whom he has been rather loyal thus far.  These are not exactly the most admirable characteristics of your protagonist.  Add to this the fact that Frannie is made out to be a needy, vulnerable and burdensome heroine and one must reasonably ask why the audience should be rooting for someone so weak and lacking in character. 

Following the screening, the instructor interviewed the writer-director of “Take Care”, Liz Tuccillo.  After directing her first feature, Tuccillo said that before she directs another, she would first like to take a course to learn technical information about cameras work.  She added that one of the most frustrating aspects of shooting had to do with filming in the streets of New York City – there were so many outdoor shots that got interrupted because of noises beyond her control (e.g., airplanes, ambulances, etc.) that they wound up having to do many takes.  A small budget independent film, they were scheduled to shoot for only 18 days, but wound up spending 19 because of rain on one day. 


Take Care (2014) on IMDb

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“Horrible Bosses 2”– Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the comedy “Horrible Bosses 2”, starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis. 


When three friends start their own business, they are swindled out of their company by a dishonest investor – but after an attempted kidnapping, will their poorly-planned scheme earn them the revenge they seek?


Nick, Kurt and Dale (Bateman, Sudeikis and Day) have finally had it with working for other people:  they’ve finally quit their jobs in order to start their own business manufacturing Dale’s invention, The Shower Buddy – a device that gives the user a thorough and expedient washing.  Not the most business-savvy types – and seemingly lacking an entrepreneurial bone in their body – the three men promote their new idea in order to get venture capitalists interested in their endeavor.  The men think they’ve found the angel they’ve been looking for when they are contacted by a top executive at a major company (Christoph Waltz). 

Meeting with the executive, they are given what initially appears to be a generous offer of a large order in their device in addition to assistance in securing a business loan that will help them grow their company.  At the last minute, however, the executive pulls the plug on the deal, which results in the men losing ownership of the company they started.  Humiliated and furious, the group come up with an idea to try to reclaim at least some of their money:  they will kidnap Rex (Chris Pine), the executive’s son, and collect a tidy ransom in exchange for his safe return. 

Unfortunately for them, the kidnapping plot goes hopelessly awry; when Rex learns of the scheme, it gives him an idea for how to get back at the father with whom he’s long had a difficult relationship.  Rex offers to collaborate with the trio on the plan and split the ransom with them; desperate and still with nothing to show for their efforts, they reluctantly agree to allow Rex to join them.  But as they proceed, the men begin to suspect that Rex’s erratic behavior will cause their new plan to fail just as badly.  Finally, when it seems that Rex has double-crossed them, will these three wind up doing time or will they be able to avoid arrest and have the truth about Rex revealed to the police?   


Nick, Kurt and Dale from “Horrible Bosses 2” may be the most imbecilic three men to star in the same film since The Three Stooges; depending on your opinion of The Three Stooges, that may or may not be a good thing. What’s promising about “Horrible Bosses 2” is the fact that there are a few good laughs and some of the best characters from the original movie – namely M-F Jones (Jamie Foxx), Dave (Kevin Spacey) and Julia (Jennifer Aniston) – all reappear in the sequel, to varying degrees.  Arguably the funniest character from the first film, Aniston’s Julia supplies some of the biggest and most raucous laughs from her bawdy antics. 

For those that never saw the first “Horrible Bosses”, this may very well be a pleasant find – however, there were quite a few members of the class that walked out on this movie long before it was over (the outrageous humor certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea).  On the other hand, if you were a fan of the previous installment, this sequel may prove something of a disappointment; the favorite characters – especially Aniston as the horny dentist – aren’t in this as much as the first film, and as a consequence, it isn’t quite as funny.  Also, the plot in this one isn’t quite as clever as in the first and sometimes feels a bit convoluted; in some ways, it feels as though the filmmakers wanted to make a carbon copy of the first “Horrible Bosses”, especially when it came to the resolution of the story.

While “Horrible Bosses 2” certainly isn’t terrible, it doesn’t quite stand up to the original; you may want to hold off on seeing this in the theaters unless you’re looking to escape the family during the holiday (it opens around Thanksgiving); renting it might be a better option – it’s definitely got some entertainment value, but nothing worth rushing out at your earliest opportunity.  The possibility of another sequel may depend on the success of this movie; although that may not be in the cards, if it does happen, hopefully the next one will focus on Aniston’s hilarious character. 


Saturday, November 08, 2014

“Actress”– Movie Review



This week at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center, I attended the opening night screening of the new documentary “Actress” starring Brandy Burre.


Following a hiatus to start a family, an actress attempts to resume her career – but when personal problems arise, will they hamper her efforts?


Arguably, Brandy Burre’s big break as an actress came when she appeared on the noted HBO television series “The Wire”; prior to that, most of her résumé included theater work.  Once that ended, she decided to take time off from her career in order to start a family with her partner, Tim.  Together, they wound up moving to the New York City suburban community of Beacon, New York where they purchased a house and had a son and daughter; additionally, they also co-own a pair of restaurants in the area.  All seems well for the first few years until Brandy begins to get the itch to act once again. 

As Brandy seeks auditions and sings at New York City cabarets, she senses Tim’s lack of support in this endeavor and feels he may be withdrawing; she then becomes romantically involved with Chris while she continues to live with Tim and raise their children as Tim focuses on running his businesses – all the while, completely oblivious to the fact that Brandy has a little something on the side.  Brandy admits that she and Tim did not know each other for a very long time before they decided to settle down; she became pregnant after they were seeing each other for about three months, confessing that she wasn’t terribly well thought out when it came to the matter of family planning. 

Eventually, Tim discovers Brandy’s secret and is understandably furious; he moves out of their house and rents a small apartment in town.  Although he occasionally comes by their house to perform routine maintenance and keep an eye on the kids while Brandy is otherwise occupied, the couple have worked out at least a temporary joint custody agreement, where she drops off their children at Tim’s place for overnight stays.  While all of this turmoil plays itself out, Brandy remains committed to finding acting work of almost any kind.  But will she be able to step back into her career after such a long time away from acting and all of the distractions in her family life?     


Are we being hoodwinked here?  Is “Actress” truly a documentary?  Or is this just the next manipulative and opportunistic step by Brandy Burre in some kind of pathetic attempt to jump-start a stalled career?  It would seem that the events of this documentary may be true, but given the degree of attention this film has been receiving, Burre’s scheme – if indeed it is that – seems to be working.  Ultimately, an actress (or actor) is always performing – and that is especially true when there is a camera being pointed at him or her. 

While much of the documentary covers some of the more mundane aspects of Burre’s life – cleaning and traveling to auditions – there is also a great deal of footage captured of her talking directly to the camera; in these monologues (soliloquies?), she is provided an opportunity to give her side of the story.  On the other hand, Tim, her former partner, has no such scenes, despite the fact that he obviously consented to appear in this film.  Why is he not interviewed?  Well, perhaps because he’s not an actor and as a result, is less dramatically compelling on camera and has less of a presence.  Or perhaps it is because the filmmaker only wanted to present one side of the story. 

Following the screening, there was a question-and-answer session with Burre and the documentary’s director  Robert Greene.  Greene said that he shot for a period of about three to four months and ultimately acquired somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 hours of footage which he eventually edited down to this hour-and-a-half documentary.  He added that none of those who appeared in his documentary signed a release form; Greene claims he chose to go that route because since he was friends with Brandy and Tim, he always wanted to give them the chance to back-out of the situation at any time. 


Actress (2014) on IMDb

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

“The Theory Of Everything”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new biographical drama, “The Theory Of Everything”, the story of Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane; it stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. 


After Stephen Hawking is diagnosed with a fatal illness, he gets married and starts a family while continuing his work as a physicist – but when he outlives predictions of his death, will his debilitating disease also debilitate his marriage?


In 1963, Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) is studying at England’s Cambridge University to earn a PhD in physics when he meets Jane (Jones), a student focusing on poetry.  Impressed with Stephen’s intelligence, Jane finds herself drawn to him and they wind up spending an increasing amount of time together.  One day, Stephen suffers a fall and is hospitalized; after physicians run a battery of tests on him, Stephen is told that he has an incurable progressive neurological disorder and the grim prognosis is that he will succumb to it in approximately two years.

Jane remains undaunted by the tragic news and convinces him that they should marry; shortly thereafter, they begin a family and Stephen lives long enough to see his children reach school age – proving the doctors’ estimates of his life expectancy wrong.  Over time, however, Stephen’s health deteriorates; between caring for him and their children, Jane is understandably worn down.  They agree to take in Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a local music teacher, to help Jane take care of Stephen while she tends to the children.  Eventually, the arrangement is forced to end when suspicions arise that Jane and Jonathan are having an affair. 

When Stephen is hospitalized with pneumonia, he must undergo a tracheotomy, which results in the loss of his ability to speak.  Needing professional help with her husband’s worsening condition, Jane hires Elaine (Maxine Peake), a nurse who teaches Stephen how to communicate despite his lack of speech.  Inspired to write the book that will eventually become “A Brief History Of Time”, Stephen ultimately finds that he is falling in love with Elaine.  But will Stephen’s new-found feelings for Elaine cause the end of his marriage to Jane or will their love overcome Stephen’s temptation?



The performances of Redmayne and Jones make “The Theory Of Everything” worth seeing, but it is Redmayne, contorting his face and body as he portrays an ever-diminished Hawking, that really stands out.  Part of the problem, however, is that as Hawking’s motor skills deteriorated, so did his ability to speak; as a result, Redmayne is periodically difficult to understand when he articulates his lines.  Jones’ version of Jane doesn’t appear as a saint so much as a strong-willed woman who knew early on what she wanted then went out to get it and remained dedicated even in life’s bleakest moments.  

That said, it is worth questioning how true the movie is to The Hawkings’ real life, especially when considering that it is based on a book written by the former Mrs. Hawking.  Neither Stephen nor Jane come across as flawless, but they do seem almost blameless even in their personal shortcomings.  While both are presented as heroic, it is Jane who is conveyed even more so because it was her choice to remain with her husband; her self-sacrificing nature makes her loyal to a fault.  Again, based on her book, how could Jane be otherwise?

“The Theory Of Everything” is both a biography and a romance – albeit one that may challenge the traditional notion of what a happy ending might be.  What makes the story so unbelievable is the fact that it is true; if this had been based on a novel, an audience’s suspension of disbelief would likely be tested, to say the least.  While no one could question Hawking’s brilliance, it would not be out of order to question his ethics, especially when his notoriety grew.  The fact that the movie relentlessly holds this extraordinary scientist in the highest esteem may be its greatest failing – that he is never colored as a villain at any point doesn’t necessarily ring true. 

The Theory of Everything (2014) on IMDb

Sunday, November 02, 2014

“Goodbye To Language”– Movie Review



This weekend, I saw the new 3-D movie by Jean-Luc Godard, “Goodbye To Language” starring Roxy, the director’s dog (yes, you read that right).


The legendary director’s experiment with 3-D filmmaking, implementing some rather unorthodox techniques.


The film is told in two parts:  “Nature” and “Metaphor”.  In each part, the director ventures into various uses of visual and audible trickery to fool both the eye and ear of the viewer.  The visual images include the use of 3-D, but also use brilliant colors that almost seem to explode on the screen in each shot; scenes vary from feelings of hallucination to dreams – and sometimes even nightmares.  The audio is used to vary in volume during different points in the movie and at times, even varying within a single scene; the use of distortion is also occasionally applied to alarming effect.

The story – to the extent that there is one – appears to be about the struggling relationship of an incessantly bickering couple who are prone to inscrutable dialog ranging from philosophical, to political to religious in nature.  In addition to the new footage shot for the film are stock footage and scenes from documentaries as well as scenes from old movies interspersed all throughout.  While there is occasional full-frontal nudity, it seems to mostly concentrate on the female, who proudly sports full bush; the male, on the other hand, is often seen (and, to be sure, heard) on the toilet – even his evacuations have political overtones, or so Godard would have us believe.  

Roxy the dog plays a part in the couple’s life as not only their pet, but their surrogate offspring.  Ambivalent about bringing a new life into the world, they instead decide to adopt a dog, which they bring on their outings and vacations.  The ever-obedient pet is playful, loyal and loving but is never actually seen with its owners; instead, we only ever see Roxy joyously running about the countryside, rolling around in the snow and in a rare moment of repose, gazing pier-side upon a lake.  In a movie of many unsettling moments, this is one of the more tranquil scenes. 


Normally, I don’t write movie reviews about films after they’ve already opened, but I decided to make an exception with “Goodbye To Language” for reasons I’ll get into later.  In fact, there’s a good chance that by the time you read this, it may no longer be available (it ends its run at New York City’s Lincoln Center on Thursday, November 6th). However, despite the fact that it’s by the frequently divisive Jean-Luc Godard, it’s interesting to see how new technology can be used in an old medium by a veteran filmmaker. 

For people far more knowledgeable about art than I am, they may detect a sense of Impressionism in Godard’s “Goodbye To Language”.  Whether you see Godard as a genius or a buffoon, he has made it clear that storytelling is subordinate to the creativity of filmmaking.  Rather than lay out a clear-cut narrative, the director instead chooses to toy with the audience via both sights and sounds that may disturb, amuse or confuse – sometimes, a combination of all three.  Should you choose to see “Goodbye To Language”, don’t bother trying to figure it out or find a story; instead, treat it as though you are viewing a type of performance art or are at a museum of surrealist paintings. 

So why did I bother writing a review of this movie?  The press that covers motion pictures have created a considerable amount of buzz around “Goodbye To Language” and it got me curious, which is why I decided to see it in the first place.  For another thing, since I’m fortunate enough to live in New York City, one of the few places showing the film, I felt as though I owed it to myself to see the picture.  But therein lies another reason:  “Goodbye To Language” may be the most fascinating movie you’ll never see simply because it’s so unusual.  For a more detailed explanation of why this is so, you might want to read the Indiewire article, “Why Theaters Are Refusing to Book Godard's Moneymaking 3D 'Goodbye to Language'”.

Goodbye to Language 3D (2014) on IMDb

Thursday, October 30, 2014

“Magician”– Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the documentary “Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles”, directed by Chuck Workman.


The personal and professional life of filmmaker Orson Welles is explored to see how one influenced the other.


Attending The Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, Orson Welles was one of its most memorable students. As a chubby boy, he was never very athletic, but young Orson did manage to find other ways to excel as a student: cleaving towards more intellectual pursuits, he participated extensively in theater, writing and art. Orson eventually got tagged with the moniker of “prodigy” when his accomplishments gained considerable notoriety in the local newspapers; this would serve to be something of an albatross for the remainder of Welles’ life – his exceptionalism was accompanied by high expectations.

In college, Welles’ involvement in the theater intensified and he found his mission in life was to create and perform; whether acting or directing, he was most passionate about participating in Shakespearean plays and eventually created his own theatrical troupe where he could also write his own plays. Finding increasing success, the studios noticed Welles’ various talents and brought him to Hollywood.  There, he was introduced to filmmaking . Upon being offered work, he would turn down jobs in order to negotiate a better deal – not for more money, but more control over the work. If they wanted him to act, studios would have to let him direct and sometimes even write the screenplay as well.

Although Welles’ filmmaking efforts within the Hollywood studio system brought him even greater fame, it also proved to be his downfall as well. Insisting on greater power and gaining a reputation as a prima donna, opportunities became fewer and further between. As a result, Welles decided to continue making films, but would work outside of the traditional Hollywood system. Partnering with various production companies both in the United States and abroad, he wound up with the freedom and control he sought, but often realizing that he would have to sacrifice funding as a part of the trade-off. Needing money in order to make the type of films he wanted, he would wind up taking jobs which he felt were beneath him so he could continue with more artistic pursuits.


With the centenary of Orson Welles’ birth coming next year, this timely documentary reminds film devotees how driven and dedicated the filmmaker was to his craft; arguably, Welles may have been this country’s first and most notable independent filmmaker, even though both the concept and popularity of independent filmmaking was decades away. To say Welles may have been before his time in such progressive thinking only serves to buttress his stature as a creative genius and someone who took great pride in making motion pictures. Due to his intellectual interests, however, reaching a mass audience eluded him; this is something that Welles himself admitted vexed him throughout his life.

This documentary is clearly made with great love and admiration for its subject, but it is not lacking in objectivity. As its director, Workman does not sidestep the controversies in Welles’ life, many of which were often caused by Welles himself.  These controversies occurred in both his personal and professional life and to some extent, even continue to this day, nearly 30 years after Welles’ death at the age of 70.  Among them are the resulting chaos from the famed “Martian invasion” radio broadcast as well as Welles’ paternity issue regarding director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the documentary’s director, Chuck Workman. Workman was fascinated by the fact that Welles often had trouble completing much of the work he started, especially given that he was adamant about maintaining control all throughout the production. The director believes that this was part of Welles’ creative genius being a disadvantage; he maintains that once Welles got involved in a project, he would be initially fascinated by its various challenges.  However, once Welles felt he had conquered the obstacles, he would move on to the next mountain to climb and essentially lose interest in the task at hand – whether completing a shoot or post-production on his footage.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

“Before I Go To Sleep”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new mystery, “Before I Go To Sleep”, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.


When a woman loses her memory after an injury, she tries to put the pieces of her life together – but in doing so, will she be able to trust either her therapist or her husband?


To say that Christine (Kidman) is facing an uphill battle is putting it mildly.  When she wakes up, not only is she unable to remember what happened the previous day, she can’t remember anything about her life.  Basically, she has to spend the entire day attempting to re-acquire her memories – but when she finally does so by the end of the day, it’s time to go to sleep and she’ll have to face the same challenges again the next morning when she awakens.  Not even her husband Ben (Firth) seems to be able to sufficiently jog her memory. 

Christine is surprised to learn that she is under the care of Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), a psychologist who has been attempting some unorthodox methods to treat her amnesia; one of which is supplying Christine with a digital camera that he instructs her to use each day to record videos in which she talks about the information about her life that she has learned that day.  One thing that puzzles Christine, though, is the fact that Ben and Dr. Nasch have given her conflicting information about how she came to be an amnesiac:  Ben informs her she had a car accident while Dr. Nasch insists that she was attacked. 

Soon, Christine is provided with another link to her past – her best friend Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), who tries to help her fill in the gaps in her recollections.  With new knowledge about her background, Christine is not sure whether she is being deceived by either Ben or Dr. Nasch.  Added to the mix are rumors about her son Adam, whom Christine is given to understand may have perished in the same accident that caused her amnesia and Christine becomes further confused.  After being inundated with facts about her history from various sources, will Christine be able to believe any of them or is she destined to forever be left in the dark?


Here’s a question for you:  When was the last time you saw a dramatic movie in a theater and – in its final heart-wrenching scene that’s supposed to wrap up the story – hear a section of the audience laugh at its ending?  Well, while you mull that one over, perhaps seeing “Before I Go To Sleep” may be your next opportunity to do so.  At least, that is what happened at this evening’s screening.  To be sure, not everyone laughed; I certainly didn’t.  Neither did the guy sitting behind me; he simply snorted and exclaimed, “Oh, come on now!”. 

All of this should give you a reasonably good idea of what to expect from “Before I Go To Sleep”; not only is this not recommended to see in the theaters, it may not even be worth a rental.  If there’s anything good to say about this movie, it’s the fact that it’s thankfully short at only an hour and a half.  There is also a nude shot of Ms. Kidman early on, but given that we only saw her behind from her behind, it may very well be a body double.  Perhaps it may be best to leave that one for Mr. Skin to sort out for everyone. 

There is a direct correlation between the level of difficulty of writing a review and the quality of the movie being reviewed.  Writing these reviews gets more challenging the worse the reviewed film; at times like this, it can certainly turn into something of a chore, especially when you are passionate about motion pictures.  Enthusiasm rises when a particularly good picture is screened, making the review that much easier to write – and a considerably less sorrowful task, to be sure.  Fortunately, my duty for today has been fulfilled as my penance has been completed.   


Before I Go to Sleep (2014) on IMDb

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

“Laggies”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new romantic comedy “Laggies”, starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell. 


When a young woman finds her life stalled, she befriends a teenage girl and winds up living with her and the girl’s father – but after an attraction develops between the woman and the father, how will this impact her relationship with the girl and others in her life? 


A decade after graduating from high school, Megan (Knightley) finds her life at something of a standstill.  Despite the fact that she’s achieved an advanced degree, Megan has suddenly become directionless in both her personal and professional life.  Her friends are either getting married, having babies or deeply ensconced in their chosen career path.  Megan, however, doesn’t know what she wants to do; she’s in no hurry to marry Anthony (Mark Webber), her long-time live-in boyfriend, nor is she especially driven to pursue any particular line of work – her current menial job is for the accounting firm operated by her father (Jeff Garlin). 

Having seen her friends pass her by, Megan decides to attend an out-of-town seminar that she believes will get her life back on track; in truth, she mostly needs some time and distance from Anthony, who’s just proposed.  Her plans get derailed when she meets Annika (Moretz), a teenager who comes from a broken home.  After her mother Bethany (Gretchen Mol) took off for a modeling career, Annika is now being raised by her single dad, Craig (Rockwell), a lawyer.  Megan and Annika hit it off immediately; becoming friends, Megan hits her up for a very odd favor:  she wants to move in with Annika and her dad for a few days until she can figure out her life.  Craig reluctantly grants her permission to do so once Megan cooks up a fib that sounds remotely feasible. 

Spending a considerable amount of time together, Megan and Annika eventually develop an almost sisterly relationship.  Complications arise when Craig and Megan find they have an irresistible attraction to each other; unable to ignore the opportunity that fate has presented them, they begin to pursue a romance.  Ultimately, Megan realizes she must come clean to both Craig and Annika.  Predictably, neither are terribly happy when they learn that Megan has been deceiving the two of them all this time and their friendship is fractured.  Will Megan have to return to Anthony and reluctantly get married or can she somehow find a way to seek forgiveness from both Annika and Craig? 


Although the genre of “Laggies” may be characterized as a romantic comedy, it might be more accurately described as a Young Adult Fairy Tale; there’s very little that occurs in this story that even remotely suggests verisimilitude, and would conceivably be a fantasy of the distaff segment of the under-30 market.  From a business standpoint, there is certainly nothing wrong with approach; it’s obviously proven financially viable, given the success of vampire flicks and “The Hunger Games” series.  Taking any of this film seriously, however, would be a mistake of immense proportions.

If “Laggies” had focused on male characters, it likely would have been made by Judd Apatow and starred Seth Rogan and would have instead been titled something like “Slackers”.  While “Slackers” would be more of a disparaging title, “Laggies” sounds almost cute and arguably less insulting; it suggests it’s more socially acceptable to be a “laggy” than a “slacker”.  Arrested development in females is apparently perceived as adorable in young women but buffoonish in young men.  Sexist?  Perhaps.  But this time at least, sexism works in favor of women instead of against them. 

“Laggies” was directed by Lynn Shelton from a script by Andrea Seigel.  Shelton’s previous directorial efforts in feature films earned a reputation of having more gravitas than “Laggies” possesses; by comparison, it seems “Laggies” is the soufflé compared to the director’s earlier work.  With that in mind, “Laggies” would either be a disappointment to fans of Shelton’s more serious films or a reasonably accessible entry-level introduction to her style for those unfamiliar with her movies.  By all accounts, Shelton appears to be a very talented filmmaker and hopefully, her next motion picture will be something more thoughtful. 


Laggies (2014) on IMDb

Friday, October 17, 2014

“Listen Up Philip”– Movie Review



This week at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center, I saw the comedy-drama “Listen Up Philip”, starring Jason Schwartzman and Elizabeth Moss; the film is written and directed by Alex Ross Perry.


When an egotistical novelist anticipates success with his latest book, he becomes even more impossible to live with – but after he suddenly finds himself friendless, will he change his ways?


Philip (Schwartzman) is a jerk.  About to have his second novel published,  early signs indicate that it will be even more successful than his first.  Unfortunately, all of this good fortune seems to be going straight to his head; he treats his friends shabbily, ignores his girlfriend Ashley (Moss) and refuses requests by his publishing company to promote the book.  Because he’s being so self-involved and rude to everyone, Philip starts to find that they are all turning their back on him, which only supports his disdain for them.  He winds up blaming everyone else except himself. 

It is at this point that Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) reaches out to Philip; Ike, an experienced author with a long string of best-sellers to his name, befriends Philip and commiserates with him.  Although their friendship also includes some degree of Ike mentoring Philip, the problem is that Ike so sympathizes with Philip that he winds up feeding into Philip’s narcissism; this results in Philip feeling fully justified for his view of others, himself and the world in general.  With Philip experiencing greater isolation once Ashley has thrown him out of their apartment, Ike invites him to stay at his country house for a while. 

Ike suggests that Phillip take a job teaching creative writing at a nearby college; once Philip starts working there, however, he soon begins to develop the same set of problems all over again, but with a fresh set of people – he complains that neither the students nor the faculty like him very much.  One of the other instructors that indeed does dislike him is Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume), also a young writer, who feels she is in competition with Philip.  As they get to know each other, Yvette softens her view of him and they become romantically involved. 

But when Philip’s naturally obnoxious behavior alienates Yvette also, will he finally learn his lesson?


Although “Listen Up Philip” is strongly recommended, it does come with an extremely severe caveat because this movie is definitely not for everyone.  It carries with it some very funny but very caustic and – what some people may understandably think – is rather cruel humor.  Simply put, Philip is not a very likeable character and there are certainly many people who have problems seeing a story about someone so bilious.  So why the recommendation?  The character of Philip is quite funny – albeit unintentionally – and thus is incredibly compelling to watch as he completely self-destructs.

From a technical perspective, it’s also an interesting film to watch because it very much has to it the look and feel of a motion picture straight out of the 1970’s.  Starting with the style of the titles at its opening to the grainy quality of its appearance, it could have easily been made as an independent movie back in 1972 or so.  This is because “Listen Up Philip” was shot using a Super-16mm camera, quite a bit of it being hand-held.  One criticism of this is the over-reliance on close-ups – in fact, extreme close-ups, quite often.  (With no zoom, some actors were reportedly slightly distracted by having the camera literally in their face)

Following the screening was a question and answer session with Schwartzman and writer/director Alex Ross Perry.  A young filmmaker (this is only Perry’s third feature), Perry admitted to modeling the Ike Zimmerman character after author Philip Roth. Schwartzman said that one of the reasons why he was drawn to play the role of Philip was due to being impressed by the fact that the character pretty much just said whatever was on his mind and didn’t particularly care what others thought about him. 


Listen Up Philip (2014) on IMDb