Cleaning Out The DVR: Just The Ticket (dir by Richard Wenk)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 193 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded the 1999 romantic comedy Just The Ticket off of Epix on October 13th!)

Just The Ticket tells the story of Gary Starke (Andy Garcia).

Gary lives in New York City.  He is a tough, streetwise character, loyal to his friends and quick to anger if he feels that anyone is trying to take advantage of him.  He has no time for pretentious posturing or snobbish social gatherings.  Gary’s a man of the people.  He works with and takes care of an aging former boxer named Benny (Richard Bradford).  He looks after a pregnant, former drug addict named Alice (Laura Harris).  When the slick and dangerous Casino (Andre B. Blake) starts to do business in Gary’s territory, Gary is the only person with the guts to stand up to him.  Having never had a family (he’s never even seen his birth certificate and has no idea who his parents were), Gary has adopted the street people as his surrogate family.

That’s not all.  Gary is also a lapsed Catholic who, when he goes to confession, opens by saying that it’s been 25 years since his last confession and that he’s taken the Lord’s name in vain 20 to 30 times that morning.  Gary needs some help because his girlfriend, an aspiring chef named Linda (Andie McDowell), has left him and Gary wants to win her back.  The priest asks Gary if he can get him tickets to see the Knicks…

Why does he ask that?

You see, Gary is a legendary ticket scalper and…

Okay, I probably just lost you when I used the terms “legendary” and “ticket scalper” in the same sentence.  And I’ll admit that, when I discovered this movie was about ticket scalpers, it nearly lost me as well.  Just The Ticket treats ticket scalping with a dignity and reverence that I’m not quite sure it deserves.  I wasn’t surprised to discover that director/writer Richard Wenk apparently based the character of Gary on an actual ticket scalper that he knew.  A lot of bad movies have been made as the result of a director, writer, or producer coming across some mundane activity and thinking, “Wow, this would make a great movie!”

(That’s one reason why, every few years, we suddenly get a dozen movies about race car drivers.)

However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Just The Ticket is not a terrible movie.  Admittedly, it’s totally predictable and there are a lot of scenes that don’t work.  For instance, there’s a lengthy scene where Gary and Linda destroy a snobbish food critic’s kitchen.  I could imagine Gary doing that because he has nothing to lose.  But Linda is actually hoping to become a chef in New York City.  Would she really run the risk of making a permanent enemy at the New York Times?  There’s nothing about Andie McDowell’s performance that suggests she would.  The scenes between Gary and his aging partner also tend to overplay their hand.  Richard Bradford gives a good performance as Benny but we all know what’s going to end up happening to him as soon as he starts crying after Gary insults him.

With all that in mind, Just The Ticket still has an undeniable charm.  Some of it is due to Andy Garcia’s dedicated performance.  He is frequently better than the material and he and Andie McDowell have enough chemistry that you do want to see Linda and Gary get back together.  Some of it is because Just The Ticket is not afraid to shy away from being sentimental.  It’s hard to think of any other romantic comedy in which the Pope plays such an important supporting role.  It’s a sweet movie.  It has a good heart.

There’s something to be said for that.

Film Review: Factory Girl (dir by George Hickenlooper)


Oh God.  Factory Girl.

Released in 2006, Factory Girl was a biopic about Edie Sedgwick, the tragic model/actress/artist who was briefly both Andy Warhol’s muse and one of the most famous women in America.  Before I talk too much about this film, I should probably admit that I’m probably the worst possible person to review a movie about Edie Sedgwick.

Why?

Allow me to repost something that I wrote when I reviewed Edie’s final film, Ciao Manhattan:

“In the late 60s, Edie Sedgwick was a model who was briefly the beautiful face of the underground.  Vogue called her a “youthquaker.”  She made films with Andy Warhol, she dated the rich and the famous and for a brief time, she was one of the most famous women in America.  But a childhood full of tragedy and abuse had left Edie fragile and unprepared to deal with the pressures of being famous.  She was fed drugs by those who claimed to care about her, she had numerous mental breakdowns, and, when she was at her most vulnerable, she was pushed away and rejected by the same people who had loved her when she was on top of the world.  Edie died because, when she asked for help, nobody was willing to listen.

 

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

I guess I should explain something.  I don’t believe in reincarnation but if I did, I would swear that I was Edie Sedwick in a past life.  Of all the great icons of the past, she, Clara Bow, andVictoria Woodhull are the ones to whom I feel the closest connection. (Edie is the reason why, for the longest time, I assumed I would die when I was 28.  But now I’m 29, so lucky me.)”

(Incidentally, I wrote that two years ago and I’m still alive so, once again, lucky me.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m always going to be a hundred times more critical of a film about Edie Sedgwick as I would be about any other film.  If you’re already guessing that I didn’t particularly care for Factory Girl, you’re right.  However, there are some people whose opinions I respect and some of them love this film.

Anyway, Factory Girl is a biopic that’s structured so conventionally that it even opens with Edie (played by Sienna Miller) narrating her story to an unseen interviewer.  I can count on one hand the number of successful biopics that have featured someone telling the story of their life to an unseen interviewer.  It’s a conventional and kind of boring technique.  Anyway, the film follows all of the expected beats.  Edie arrives in New York.  Edie is spotted by Andy (Guy Pearce).  Edie makes films with Warhol.  Her famous dance in Vinyl is recreated.  Edie becomes Andy’s platonic girlfriend but then, she meets and falls in love with Bob Dylan…

Oh, sorry.  He’s not actually Bob Dylan.  According to the credits, his name is Folksinger.  He says Bob Dylan type stuff.  He rides around on a motorcycle.  He carries a harmonica.  Oh, and he’s played by Hayden Christensen.

See, the first half of Factory Girl is actually not bad.  Sienna Miller gives a pretty good performance as Edie, even if she never comes close to capturing Edie’s unforced charisma.  Despite being several years too old, Guy Pearce is also credible as Andy Warhol.  The film itself is full of crazy 60s clichés but, even so, that’s not always a terrible thing.  Some of those 60s clichés are a lot of fun, if they’re presented with a little imagination.

But then Hayden Christensen shows up as Bob Dylan and the film loses whatever credibility it may have had.  Hayden, who gave his best performance when he played a soulless and largely empty-headed sociopath in Shattered Glass, is totally miscast as a musician who once said that if people really understood what his songs were about, he would have been thrown in jail.  The film attempts to portray Dylan and Warhol as two men fighting for Edie’s soul but Christensen is so outacted by Guy Pearce that it’s never really much of a competition.  Even though the film makes a good case that Edie’s relationship with Andy was ultimately self-destructive, Guy Pearce is still preferable to Hayden Christensen trying to imitate Dylan’s distinctive mumble.

Anyway, Factory Girl doesn’t really work.  Beyond the odd casting of Hayden Christensen, Factory Girl is too conventionally structured.  In its portrayal of the Factory and life in 1960s New York, the film never seems to establish a life beyond all of the familiar clichés.  (Before anyone accuses me of contradicting myself, remember that I said that the old 60s clichés are fun if they’re presented with a little imagination.  That’s a big if.)  At no point, while watching the film, did I feel as if I had been transported back to the past.  If you want to learn about Edie Sedgwick, your best option is to try to track down her Warhol films.

Edie!

Movie A Day #120: Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde (1993, directed by John Shipperd)


Scott Wolf plays Clyde, a nerdy high school student who has a go-nowhere job at a burger place.  Maureen Flannigan, best known for starring in Out Of This World, is Bonnie, who likes to steal stuff and have fun.  Unfortunately, Bonnie’s father (played by Tom Bower) is not an avuncular alien who sounds like Burt Reynolds.  Instead, he’s the extremely strict and controlling police commissioner of their hometown.  Clyde like Bonnie but Bonnie wants nothing to do with him.  It’s not until Clyde spies Bonnie shoplifting in a record store that he realizes that larceny is the key to her heat.  When Clyde steals a van and Bonnie steals her father’s guns, the two of them head for Mexico, robbing banks, shooting guns, making love (which, judging from the comments I have found online, is the main reason the film found an audience once it started showing up on HBO) and becoming media celebrities along the way.

An attempt to do a teenage version of Bonnie and Clyde, Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde predates Natural Born Killers by a year with its critique of the public’s fascination with sex and violence.  While the film was hurt by its low-budget, both Maureen Flannigan and Scott Wolf were ideally cast as the young lovers and the entire movie is a hundred times better than anyone would ever expect something called Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde to be.  After being typecast of Out of this World‘s wholesome Evie, Maureen Flannigan tried to change her image with this violent film.  Unfortunately, the movie ended up exiled to late night showings on HBO where it guaranteed that kids like me would never look at reruns of Out of This World the same way ever again.

Shattered Politics #53: The Godfather Part III (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


GodfatherIII2

Well, it’s come to this.

First released in 1990, The Godfather Part III was nominated for best picture (it lost to Goodfellas Dances With Wolves) but it’s got a terrible reputation.  Over the past two weeks, whenever I’ve mentioned that I was planning on reviewing The Godfather and The Godfather Part II for this series of reviews, everyone who I talked to mentioned that they loved the first two Godfather films and that they hated the third one.  Quite a few, in fact, suggested that I shouldn’t even bother reviewing the third one.  In their eyes, The Godfather Part III was like that one cousin who you know exists but, because he got caught cashing your grandma’s social security check, you never send a Christmas card.

But you know what?

It was never even an option for me to skip reviewing The Godfather, Part III.  First off, I’m a completist.  It’s long been my goal to review every single best picture nominee and, regardless of how much some people may dislike it, that’s exactly what The Godfather Part III is.

Plus, I love the Godfather movies.  I’m a fourth Italian (and, much like the Corleones, my Italian side comes from Southern Italy) and I was raised Catholic.  Let’s face it — The Godfather movies were made for me.  Even Part III.

So, with all that in mind, I recently sat down and rewatched The Godfather Part III.  And I’m not saying that it was an easy film to watch.  It’s a flawed film and those flaws are made even more obvious when you compare it to the previous two Godfathers.  It’s hard to follow up on perfection.  And I have to admit that, even though I had seen Part III before, I was still expecting it to be better than it actually was.  I had forgotten just how many slow spots there were.  I had forgotten how confusing the plot could get.  I had forgotten….

Okay, I’m really starting to sound negative here and I don’t want to sound negative.  Because I like The Godfather, Part III.  I think it’s a good but uneven film.  Some of my favorite films are good but uneven…

But this is a Godfather film that we’re talking about here!

The Godfather Part III opens in 1979, 20+ years since the end of the second film.  Tom Hagen has died off-screen (booo!) and Michael (Al Pacino) is nearly 60 and looking forward to retirement.  He’s handed the Corleone criminal empire over to the flamboyant Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna).  Michael has finally become a legitimate businessman but he’s lost everyone that he loved.  Kay (Diane Keaton) has divorced him.  His son, Anthony (Franco D’Ambrosio), knows that Michael was responsible for killing Uncle Fredo and wants nothing to do with the family business.  Instead, Anthony wants to be an opera singer.  Meanwhile, his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) is headstrong and rebellious.  (Or, at least, she’s supposed to be.  That’s what the audience is told, anyway.  None of that really comes across on the screen.)

Now, the first two Godfather films featured their share of melodrama but neither one of them comes close to matching all of the schemes, betrayals, and plots that play out over the course of Godfather, Part III.  Let’s see if I can keep all of this straight:

As the film opens, Michael is receiving an award from the Vatican.  Kay, who is now married to a judge, shows up with Mary and Anthony.  Michael is obviously happy to see her.  Kay glares at him and says, “That ceremony was disgusting!”  (Damn, I thought, Kay’s suddenly being kind of a bitch.  Fortunately, later on in the movie, Kay’s dialogue was both better written and delivered.)

Then, Vincent (Andy Garcia) shows up!  Vincent is one of those handsome, sexy gangsters whose every action is followed by an exclamation point!  Vincent is Sonny’s illegitimate son!  He wears a cool leather jacket!  He openly flirts with his cousin Mary!  He has sex with Bridget Fonda!  He kills Joey Zasa’s thugs!  He convinces Michael to mentor him!

And, as soon as Vincent enters the film, suddenly every scene starts to end with an exclamation point!

And then, Michael goes to Sicily!  He gets swindled by the corrupt Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly)!  He gets targeted by a corrupt Italian politician!  He confesses his sins to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone)!  Lamberto later becomes Pope!

Meanwhile, Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) is conspiring to kill Michael!  Because that’s what elderly Mafia dons do!  And then Kay, Anthony, and Mary all come to Sicily!  Anthony is going to be making his opera debut!  And soon Vincent is sleeping with Mary, even though they’re first cousins!

And even more people want Michael dead and I’m not really sure why!  Everyone goes to the opera!  We sit through the entire opera!  Meanwhile, enemies of the Corleones are killed!  And some Corleones are killed!  And it all ends tragically!

Okay, I’m starting to get snarky here and it’s probably getting a little bit hard to believe that I actually do like The Godfather, Part III.  And, as much as I hate to do it, there are a few more flaws that I do need to point out.  Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors and she has really pretty hair and we both have similar noses but …. well, let’s just say that it’s probably a good thing that Sofia pursued a career as a director and not as an actress.  Reportedly, Sofia was a last minute pick for the role, cast after Winona Ryder suddenly dropped out of the production.  It’s not so much that her performance is terrible as much as it’s not up to the level of the rest of the cast.  Watching this Godfather, you’re acutely aware of how much of what you’re seeing on screen was determined by Sofia’s inexperience as an actress.

And then there’s that opera.  Now, I know that I’m supposed to love opera because I’m a girl and I’m a fourth Italian.  And I do love big emotions and big drama and all the rest.  But oh my God, the opera at the end of the movie went on and on.  There’s only so much entertainment you can get out of watching actors watch other actors.

But, at the same time, for every flaw, there’s a part of the film that does work.  First off, the film itself is gorgeous to look at, with a lot of wonderfully baroque sets and scenes taking place against the beautiful Italian landscape.  Al Pacino brings a very real gravity to the role of Michael and it’s fun to watch him trying to win back Diane Keaton.  (In those brief scenes, The Godfather Part III almost becomes a romantic comedy.)  Talia Shire is obviously having a lot of fun playing Connie as being a Lady MacBeth-type of character.  (In fact, they needed to give Connie a film of her own where she could poison anyone who get on her nerves.)  And Andy Garcia does a great job as Vincent.  You watch him and you never have any doubt that he could be Sonny’s son.

The Godfather Part III may not live up to the first two Godfather films but what film could?

Film Review: Palo Alto (dir by Gia Coppola)


Palo Alto came out in May of last year and it never quite got as much attention as it deserved.  A lot of that is because the film is based on a collection of short stories by James Franco and a lot of critics apparently decided ahead of time that Palo Alto was some sort of vanity project.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  Palo Alto is actually one of the better films of 2014, a minor masterpiece of ennui that also serves as a promising directorial debut for Gia Coppola.  (Of course, Gia’s aunt Sofia made her directorial debut with an ennui-centric literary adaptation of her own, The Virgin Suicides.)

Palo Alto follows several teenagers over the course of one school year.  (It’s no coincidence that, at one point, Fast Times At Ridgemont High shows up on a TV screen.)  The film itself is deceptively plotless, with its occasionally drifting narrative mirroring the lives of protagonists who literally have no direction.  April (Emma Roberts), who is too intelligent to really fit in with either her shallow friends or her flakey family, plays soccer and has a crush on both Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and her coach, Mr. B (James Franco, playing an unapologetically sleazy character).  Teddy is a talented artist who, after a drunk driving accident, finds himself on probation and sentenced to do community service.  Making it difficult for Teddy to stay out of trouble is his best friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), who hides his sociopathic nature behind a constant stream of jokes.  And then there’s Emily (Zoe Levin), who hides her insecurities behind a wall of blow jobs and demeaning sexual encounters.

As for the adults of Palo Alto, they’re for the most part a collection of grim but ineffective authority figures and parents who don’t want to grow up.  Mr. B hides his predatory nature behind a kind smile and a paternal nature.  April’s stepfather (Val Kilmer) is permanently stoned.  Teddy’s mother is unconcerned with her son’s drinking.  Meanwhile, Fred’s father (Chris Messina) offers weed to and hits on his son’s friends.

And it may all sound a bit familiar.  Every year, it seems like there is a countless number of indie films about directionless teenagers and irresponsible parents.  But Palo Alto is distinguished by Gia Coppola’s confident and frequently surreal direction.  Coppola has a good eye for detail and, as a result of the gorgeous cinematography of Autumn Durald, the film is always interesting to watch regardless of how familiar the story may seem.  The entire cast does a good job as well, with Emma Roberts and Nat Wolff as clear stand-outs.

And, I have to admit, that on a personal level, there was a lot of Palo Alto to which I related.  Whether it was the awkward conversations between April and Teddy or the sad look on Emily’s face as she stared at her reflection, there were so many small moments that just felt true.  As I watched Palo Alto, it was impossible for me not to think about my own time in high school.  I knew quite a few Teddys.  I even knew a few Freds.  And sometimes, I was April and then other times, I could have been any of the other characters who wander throughout Palo Alto.

Don’t listen to the haters.  Palo Alto is more than worth your time.