Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Up in the Air (dir by Jason Reitman)


There’s a lot of film bloggers out there who have a natural aversion to anything that Jason Reitman is associated with.

And listen, I understand.  The fact of the matter is that Jason Reitman probably does owe a lot of his success to the fact that people in the industry know and like his father.  And it’s also true that Jason Reitman does tend to specializes in making films that you’re either going to love or you’re going to hate.  His films mix drama and comedy and sentiment and snark and sometimes, his refusal to come down firmly on the side of either one can feel like a bit of a cop out.  There’s a quirkiness to many of his films and sometimes, it can come across as being a bit cutesy.  And I’ll even go as far as to agree with those who say that it’s been a while since Reitman’s made a really good film.  The most common complaint I hear about Reitman is that his first four films (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, and Young Adult) were okay and then he let his good reviews go to his head.  Of course, some people — okay, a lot of people — will tell you that, of those four films, Juno’s overrated.

I get all of that and I actually agree with some of those points.  Reitman is a director who sometimes seems to have lost his way after his early successes.  I think the closest that Reitman’s come to giving us a good film post-Young Adult was with Tully and even then, that felt more like a Diablo Cody film than a Jason Reitman film.

But, with all of that in mind, I still really like Jason Reitman’s early films and I think that he still has the potential to once again be an important and interesting filmmaker.  Thank You For Smoking and Juno are better than many give them credit for being.  Charlize Theron has never been better than she was in Young Adult.  Finally, this morning, I rewatched 2009’s Up In The Air for the first time in a long time and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it holds up.

Up In The Air features George Clooney and Anna Kendrick.  Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, an obsessive traveler who boats about living a life without commitment.  Ryan works for a company that hires him out to fire people.  If your boss is too much of a pussy to tell you that you’ve been terminated to your face, he hires Ryan to do it for him.  Ryan specializes in trying to convince people that being fired is not a tragedy but an opportunity for a new beginning.  Ryan also has a side gig as a motivational speaker.  His speeches are largely about avoiding commitment and personal baggage.

Anna Kendrick plays Natalie Keener.  Natalie works for the same company as Ryan but, at the age of 23 and just out of college, she’s a lot less confident when it comes to destroying people’s livelihoods.  (“I’ve worked here for 17 years and I’m being fired by a 7th grader,” is one person’s response to being terminated by Natalie.)  Natalie has come up with a new plan where all firings will be done via Skype.  That way, the person doing the firing will never have to leave their office and won’t have to deal with the people they’ve fired one-on-one.  Ryan says he considers this proposal to be inhumane but mostly, he’s just worried that he’ll lose his traveling privileges if Natalie’s plan is instituted.

Ryan and Natalie travel the country.  Ryan teaches Natalie how to fire people and Natalie discovers that it’s not as easy to destroy someone’s life as she thought.  Everywhere they go, they deal with people who are facing economic uncertainty.  Ryan meets another frequent flyer, Alex (Vera Farmiga) and, after Alex reveals that she’s even less interested in commitment than Ryan, they begin an affair.  Ryan starts to fall in love with Alex and even invited her to attend his sister’s wedding with him.  However, Alex has a secret of her own.

One thing that I really like about Up in the Air is that Ryan and Natalie never end up sleeping together.  I remember, when I first saw the movie, I was convinced that it was going to happen.  After all, Ryan is handsome and charming and Natalie is attractive and, after her boyfriend dumps her, vulnerable.  I was cringing at the knowledge that there would eventually be some contrived scene where Natalie and Ryan end up getting drunk and then end up waking up in bed together and the end result would be Natalie going from being a well-rounded, multi-dimensional character to just being a plot device in Ryan’s journey to becoming a better man.  Well, there is a scene where Natalie and Ryan get drunk at the same time but it doesn’t lead to Natalie and Ryan becoming lovers and I respected Up in the Air for having enough respect for its characters to not do the convenient thing.

The other thing I liked about Up In The Air is that it’s one of the few films to make proper use of George Clooney’s deceptively smooth screen presence.  We all know that Clooney is handsome and charming but what makes him an appealing actor is that there’s always been hints that there’s a lot dorkiness and insecurity hiding underneath the suave facade.  Ryan may seem like he’s got it all together but, as the film progresses, you come to realize that he’s a lot more insecure and neurotic than he lets on.  All of his snarky comments have more to do with his own fear of failure than anything else.  Much as how the real life Clooney still sometimes seems as if he hasn’t fully gotten over being dismissed as just being another pretty face in the early days of his career, Ryan has never gotten over his dysfunctional childhood.  Instead of taking a risk on love, he instead obsesses on getting frequent flyer miles.  (At one point, Sam Elliott pops up out of nowhere and, in a scene that you could really only expect to find in a Jason Reitman film, gives Ryan a pep talk.)  There’s a sadness to Ryan, one that seems to come from deep inside of his soul.  Clooney does an excellent job of bringing that sadness to the surface while still giving a likable and compelling performance.

Up In The Air was released at a time when America was stuck in what seemed like a never-ending recession.  Despite the fact that the news media and the politicians were insisting that things were on the verge of getting better (or, at the very least, boasting that unemployed actors were no longer “job-locked,” whatever the Hell that meant), many people believed that their best days were officially behind them.  A lot of the contemporary reviews of the film focused on what it had to say about living in a time of economic uncertainty.  That was ten years ago and we’re now living in a strong economy but, even so, Up In The Air still resonates.  Reitman includes scenes in which people talk about what it was like to be fired.  The majority of these people were not actors but were instead people recruited from the local unemployment office and they were speaking about their own experiences.  The pain and resentment on their faces and in their voices is so palpable that it’s actually a bit jarring when J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis show up, playing employees who are “terminated” by Ryan.  I guess I should admit that I’ve never actually been fired from a job but, after watching Up In The Air, it’s not something that I would ever want to experience.

Up In The Air holds up well.  Reitman’s direction is quirky but effective and he does a good job of mixing comedy in with the drama.  (Wisely, whenever he has to make a choice, he emphasizes the drama over the comedy, instead of trying to maintain some sort of mythical 50/50 balance between them.)  This film features one of George Clooney’s best performances and he has a really likable chemistry with Vera Farmiga.  Anna Kendrick also does a great job with a character who could have become a stereotype in less skilled hands.  Finally, along with Juno and The Gift, this film is one of the reasons why I always have a hard time watching Jason Bateman in any film or show where he’s cast as hero.  Bateman plays Ryan’s boss and the character is so smarmy (and Bateman does such a good job of playing him) that he’ll make your skin crawl.

It’s been a while since Up In The Air was first released and Jason Reitman’s career has had its ups and downs.  Still, regardless of whatever film Reitman makes next, Up In The Air remains a classic of the aughts.

8 Sure Shot Best Picture Nominees That Were Not


Let’s be honest.

Predicting the Oscar nominees is not an exact science.  The fact of the matter is that a lot of it is guesswork, especially in the early months of the year.

“Oh, Scorsese has a movie coming out?  Well, Martin Scorsese’s movies are always nominated!”

“Last year’s best seller is being adapted into a movie?  The Academy loves best sellers!”

“David Fincher’s directing High School Musical 4?  I LOVE DAVID FINCHER!  Best Picture for sure!”

That’s why, every year, there are films that seem like they’re guaranteed to reap Oscar glory.  These are the films that, in July, are listed on all of the awards sites as probable best picture nominees.  And every year, several of those sure shots turn out to actually be long shots.

Since Arleigh founded Through the Shattered Lens back in 2009, there’s been many guaranteed Best Picture contenders that, when the nominations were announced, were nowhere to be found.  Here are just 8 examples:

1. J. Edgar (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Remember how Leonardo DiCaprio was going finally win his first Oscar for playing J. Edgar Hoover in the 2011 Oscar biopic?  There was also some speculation that Armie Hammer would pick a supporting nod and, of course, the film was going to be a best picture nominee.  Then the movie came out, fell flat, and received not a single Oscar nomination.

2. The Dark Knight Rises (dir by Christopher Nolan)

I was not as big of a fan of this movie as some people who write for this site.  In fact, I thought it was kind of a mess.  Still, back in 2012, a lot of people assumed the Academy would make up for not nominating The Dark Knight by nominating the sequel.  (In a particular noxious example of fanboy culture, Christy Lemire was attacked online when she gave The Dark Knight Rises its first negative review.)  For all of the hyper and controversy, The Dark Knight Rises was totally ignored when the 2012 Oscar nominations were announced.

3. The Monuments Men (dir by George Clooney)

As strange as it may seem today, this now-forgotten World War II film was originally considered to be a surefire Oscar contender.  Throughout most of 2013, the majority of the experts on Gold Derby listed The Monuments Men as their number one prediction for Best Picture.  The logic was that it was based on an interesting true story, it featured Bill Murray in a serious role, and it was directed by George Clooney.  Then, suddenly, the release date was pushed back to 2014.  That was the first sign of trouble.  Then the movie came out and it turned out to be a complete mess, one that underused Murray and which reminded us that, regardless of his skill as an actor, George Clooney is a remarkably dull director.

4. Lee Daniel’s The Butler (dir by Lee Daniels)

From 2013, this is a good example of a film that tried so hard to be an Oscar contender that it basically knocked itself right out of contention.  Between the blind and dated worship of JFK and John Cusack’s performance as Richard Nixon, this film almost seemed like a parody of a bad Oscar contender.

5. Interstellar (dir by Christopher Nolan)

Personally, I liked 2014’s Interstellar more than I liked The Dark Knight Rises but ultimately, this turned out to be just another Christopher Nolan film that didn’t get much of a reaction from the Academy.  (Despite the nominations given to both Dunkirk and Inception, it’s hard not to feel that the Academy will always resent Nolan for being both successful and ambitious.)

6. Joy (dir by David O. Russell)

Many of us thought it would be one of the films to be nominated for best picture of 2015.  That was until we actually saw the damn thing.  David O. Russell’s worst movie still managed to net Jennifer Lawrence a nomination but not much else.

7. Silence (dir by Martin Scrosese)

Martin Scrosese’s 2016 passion product was expected to be a major contender and, on many sites, it was listed as a probable winner all the way through December.  However, when the nominations were announced, Silence only received one nomination, for cinematography.

8. Logan (dir by James Mangold)

At the start of 2017, a lot of critics stated that Logan might be the first comic book movie ever nominated for Best Picture.  For a month or two, I certainly thought it would be.  Ultimately, though, it only picked up a nomination for adapted screenplay.

Which 2018 sure short will turn into a long shot?  We’ll find out next year!

Here Are The Trailers for LBJ, Suburbicon, Rebel in the Rye, and 9-11!


Here’s four trailer for four films, none of which I have high hopes for.

First off, we’ve got LBJ.  You’d probably expect that I, as a history nerd, would be excited about any presidential biopic and that usually would be the case.  However, LBJ was directed by Rob Reiner and this seems like exactly the type of project that is going to bring out all of his worst tendencies as a filmmaker.  I imagine this film will make Lincoln look subtle.  I also imagine it will get some good review from the “Let’s make every review about Trump” crowd.

LBJ has actually been around for a while.  It was mentioned as an Oscar contender last year.  Then festival and preview audiences were exposed to it and all that LBJ Oscar talk abruptly ended.  No one is mentioning it as an Oscar contender this year.

The good news about Suburbicon is that it was co-written by the Coen Brothers.  The bad news is that it was directed by George Clonoey, a great actor who just happens to be an absolutely lousy director.  Much like LBJ, this is another film that I hope will be good but I just fear the material will bring out all of Clooney’s worst instincts as a filmmaker.

That said, as an actor, Clooney had done some of his best work for the Coens.  (His self-mocking performance in Burn After Reading was absolutely brilliant.)  So, I’m hoping that I’ll be proven wrong and Suburbicon will be great.

Rebel in the Rye is a biopic of writer J.D. Salinger.  The advance word on this one is not good.  Not good at all.

And finally, here’s the trailer for 9-11, which I’m predicting will be one of the worst films of 2017.  Outspoken truther Charlie Sheen plays a man stuck in a elevator September 11th.  Apparently, this was directed by Martin Guigui, who also directed National Lampoon’s Cattle Call.  

Apparently, this will be the first Charlie Sheen film to actually make it into theaters since A Glimpse Into The Mind of Charlie Swan III.  It’ll be released on September 8th and hopefully, it won’t be as annoying as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

 

Guilty Pleasure No. 31: Hail, Caesar! (dir by the Coen Brothers)


Sometimes, I wonder if I was the only filmgoer who actually enjoyed Hail, Caesar! when it was released in February.

Oh, don’t met wrong.  I know that I’m being a bit overdramatic when I say that.  It got some good reviews from the critics, though the praise was rather muted when compared to the reviews that traditionally greet the latest film from the Coen Brothers.  I know more than a few people who have agreed with me that Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining lark of a film.

But I know a lot more people who absolutely hated Hail, Caesar!  Of course, no film is going to please everyone and the Coen Brothers have always had a tendency to attempt to deliberately alienate their audience.  But what has always struck me is the fact that the people who disliked Hail, Caesar seem to really, really dislike it.  Talk to them and you get the feeling that they view Hail, Caesar as almost being some sort of a crime against both humanity and cinema.

Taking place in a stylized Hollywood in 1951, Hail, Caesar! tells the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie is a shadowy figure.  As head of production at Capitol Pictures, Eddie’s job is to keep the “bad” behavior of the stars from getting out into the press.  (The press is represented by Tilda Swinton who, in a typical Coen Brothers twist, plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists.  If the thought of that makes you smile, you are potentially a part of the right audience for Hail Caesar.  If it makes you roll your eyes, you should probably avoid the film.)  Eddie is the most powerful man in Hollywood and he will do anything to protect the image of the American film industry.  He will lie.  He will cheat.  He will threaten.  He is so ruthless and so good at his job that even Lockheed Martin is trying to hire him away from Capitol.  And yet, at the same time, Eddie is also a family man and a Catholic who is so devout that he goes to confession on a nearly hourly basis.

(For all you non-Catholics out there, Pope Francis only goes to confession twice a month.)

Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie as he deals with a series of potential problems.  Temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is upset because he’s been forced to cast Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, giving the film’s best performance), a good-natured but inarticulate cowboy star, in his sophisticated comedy.  Synchronized swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansoon) is not only pregnant but unmarried as well!  (It’s the 50s, remember.)

However, the biggest crisis is that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished from the set of his latest film. A mysterious group known as The Future has taken credit for kidnapping him.  It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that The Future is a cell of communist scriptwriters and they are determined to convert the rather dumb Baird to the struggle.  As opposed to most films about Hollywood in the 50s, the communist screenwriters are portrayed as being a bunch of self-righteous and rather cowardly nags, the majority of whom spend more time debating minutiae than actually trying to the overthrow capitalism.  In many ways, Hail, Caesar is the anti-Trumbo.

As you might guess from the plot description, there’s a lot going on in Hail, Caesar but none of it really adds up too much.  Nor is it supposed to.  We’re encouraged to laugh at these frantic characters, as opposed to sympathize with them.  Eddie Mannix and Hobie Doyle both emerge as heroes because they’re the only characters who remain calm and confident, regardless of what strangeness is happening onscreen.  Eddie may be ruthless, the film tells us, but at least he gets results.  Hobie may not be the smartest or most talented guy in Hollywood, we are told, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Hail, Caesar! is a bit of a lark, a celebration of style over substance.  As far as Coen Brother films go, Hail, Caesar has more in common with Burn After Reading than No Country For Old Men.  The film is largely an inside joke aimed at people who know the history of Hollywood, which is perhaps why some viewers reacted so negatively.  Inside jokes are fun when you’re in on the joke.  When you’re not in on it, though, they’re just annoying.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!  It may not be the Coens at their best but it’s a lot of fun and it appealed me as both a history nerd and a lover of old movies.  The best parts of Hail, Caesar! are the scenes that parody the largely forgotten, big-budget studio productions of the 1950s.  This is the rare film that acknowledges that not every film made before the 1960s was a masterpiece.  The Coens love movies but that doesn’t keep them from getting a little bit snarky.  For example, check out this production number featuring Channing Tatum:

Is Hail, Caesar self-indulgent?

Yes.

Is it largely an inside joke?

Yes.

Did I absolutely adore it?

You better believe I did.

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Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen

Film Review: Money Monster (dir by Jodie Foster)


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In a perfect world, the new film Money Monster would feature a monster that was literally made out of money.  Its name would be Monblar and it would shamble down Wall Street and breathe coins made of fire.

Or, if not featuring a literal Money Monster, the film would at least open with the angry spirit of Andrew Jackson springing out of a twenty and seeking vengeance over being replaced by Harriet Tubman.  In order to defeat the bitter old president, it would be necessary to summon the spirits of both Tubman and currency hottie Alexander Hamilton.  Seriously, that would be a great movie!

Unfortunately, Money Monster is just another boring recession thriller.  I’ve lost track of how many bad movies have been released since 2008, all featuring saintly blue collar workers who are forced to resort to extreme measures as a result of losing all of their money due to corporate greed.  While they seek revenge by either pulling off a tower heist or an assault on wall street, villainous CEOs sit in their offices, smoke cigars, and laugh at the evil of it all.  In between the inevitable gunshots and the collapsing families and the evictions, there’s always time for a didactic speech or two.  And don’t get me wrong.  I’m not fan of Wall Street but I’m also not a fan of preachy movies.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, who has a show called Money Monster where he tells people where they should invest their money.  Lee is charming.  Lee is glib.  Lee’s show features backup dancers, clips from old movies, and a rap theme song that is just so 2002.  At the start of the show, Lee even dances as Money Monster tries to convince us that Lee’s a hyperactive showman despite the fact that he’s being played one of the most laid back actors of all time.  Lee is totally unaware and/or unconcerned about the people who have occasionally lost their life savings due to his advice.

One of those people is a deliveryman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) and we know he’s a good, honest guy because his name is Kyle Budwell as opposed to Kyle Evilguy.  Kyle follows Lee’s advice to invest his family’s savings in IBIS Global Capital.  (At first, I thought that the company was called ISIS Global Capital and I was like, “Hey, you betray your country, you pay the consequences…”)  One week later, the IBIS stock crashes, Kyle is suddenly dead broke, The Big Short only manages to win one Oscar, and Hillary Clinton defeats Bernie Sanders in the New York primary.  What other choice does Kyle have other than to go on Lee’s show, force Lee to wear a bomb vest, and demand answers!

Yawn.

There’s not a single surprising moment in Money Monster.  I was going to say that you immediately know that IBIS’s CEO is evil because he’s played by Dominic West but actually, you know he’s evil because he’s a CEO and he’s appearing in a movie called Money Monster.  Meanwhile, you know that Kyle isn’t really a bad guy because he looks like likable, clean-cut, and handsome Jack O’Connell.  If Money Monster had any guts, it would have cast some fat 60 year-old slob with bad teeth in the role of Kyle Budwell.  Money Monster ends with a twist that you’ll guess within the first few minutes of film.  It’s an annoying twist, if just because it seems to assume that the audiences can’t handle moral ambiguity.

(Then again, there’s really no reason to assume that audiences can handle moral ambiguity so maybe Money Monster has a point…)

I suppose I should mention that Julia Roberts is also in the movie but there’s really no reason for her to be there.  She plays Lee’s producer, Patty, and there’s nothing about the role that demands it be played by a star.  There is a subplot about how, up until the Kyle takes Lee hostage, Patty had been planning on quitting her job but … well, who cares?  Whenever Patty and Lee talked, I found myself cringing and thinking, “Do we really have to sit through this conversation?”

(In all fairness to Money Monster, that’s actually my reaction to most conversations…)

Money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster.  It’s funny how we always assume that just because someone is a good actor that they’ll also be a good director.  For instance, Angelina Jolie has directed three mediocre films and yet, with the announcement of each new Jolie-directed movie, we still continue to assume that she’s eventually going to win an Oscar for her work behind the camera.  (Remember when Unbroken and By The Sea were being touted as guaranteed Oscar nominees?)  George Clooney has directed five films and none of them are really that good.  (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind only works because of Sam Rockwell’s performance.  Goodnight and Good Luck is overrated.  Leatherheads is boring.  The Ides of March is tedious and The Monuments Men is one of the worst movies that I’ve ever seen.)  Money Monster is Foster’s fourth film as a director and it’s almost as much of a tonal mess as The Beaver.  Then again, The Beaver was at least weird.  Money Monster was just boring.  Foster is an incredibly compelling actress and an incredibly blah director.

That said, you would think that Foster would at least be able to get good performances out of the cast.  As good as they often are, both George Clooney and Julia Roberts have actorly tics that they tend to fall back on whenever they’re working in the absence of a strong directorial vision and let’s just say that this is a very tic-filled film.  Meanwhile, poor Jack O’Connell is running the risk of turning into Taylor Kitsch.

Amazingly enough, Money Monster was this week’s “big” release.  Personally, I would recommend seeing Captain America: Civil War for a second or third time.  Now that was a good movie!

Money Monster

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Film Reviews: Avengers Grimm, Bad Asses On The Bayou, Hayride 2, Insurgent, Poltergeist, Tomorrowland


Here are 6 films that I saw during the first half of 2015.  Some of them are on Netflix and some of them were major studio releases.  Some of them are worth seeing.  Some of them most definitely are not.

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Avengers Grimm (dir by Jeremy M. Inman)

Obviously made to capitalize on the popularity of Avengers: Age of UltronAvengers Grimm opens with a war in the world of fairy tales.  Evil Rumpelstiltskin (Casper Van Dien) uses Snow White’s (Laura Parkinson) magic mirror to cross over into our world and he takes Snow White with him!  It’s now up to Cinderella (Milynn Sharley), Sleeping Beauty (Marah Fairclough), and Rapunzel (Rileah Vanderbilt) to cross over into our world, save Snow White, and defeat Rumpelstiltskin.  Also sneaking over is rebellious Red Riding Hood (Elizabeth Petersen) who is determined to kill Rumpelstiltskin’s henchman, The Wolf (Kimo Leopoldo).  

Got all that?

Avengers Grimm is another enjoyably insane mockbuster from The Asylum.  The budget’s low, the performances are intentionally melodramatic, and it’s all lot of fun.  Casper Van Dien has a lot of fun playing evil, the women all get to kick ass, and Lou Ferrigno is well-cast as a labor leader named Iron John.

Avengers Grimm is currently available on Netflix.

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Bad Asses On The Bayou (dir by Craig Moss)

Apparently, this is the third film in which Danny Trejo and Danny Glover have respectively played Frank Vega and Bernie Pope, two old guys who kick ass in between worrying about their prostates.  I haven’t seen the previous two Bad Asses films but I imagine that it really doesn’t matter.

In this film, Trejo and Glover go to Louisiana to attend a friend’s wedding.  When she’s kidnapped, they have to rescue her and impart some important life lessons to her younger brother.  It’s all pretty predictable but then again, it’s also pretty good for a film called Bad Asses On The Bayou.  This is a film that promises two things: Danny Trejo kicking ass and lots of bayou action.  And it delivers on both counts.

In fact, I would say that Bad Asses On The Bayou is a better showcase for Danny Trejo’s unique style than the better known Machete films.  Danny Trejo is a surprisingly adept comedic actor and he gives a performance here that shows his talent goes beyond mere physical presence.

Bad Asses On The Bayou is currently available on Netflix.

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Hayride 2 (dir by Terron R. Parsons)

I should admit up front that I haven’t seen the first Hayride film.  Luckily, Hayride 2 picks up directly from the end of the first film and is filled with so many flashbacks and so much conversation about what happened that it probably doesn’t matter.

Essentially, Pitchfork (Wayne Dean) is a murderous urban legend who turns out to be real.  He killed a lot of people in the first film and he stalks those that escaped throughout the 2nd film.  Like all good slasher villains, Pitchfork is a relentless killer.  He’s also an unrepentant racist, which leads to a genuinely unpleasant scene where he attacks a black detective (Corlandos Scott).  Say whatever else you will about the film, Hayride 2 deserves some credit for being on the side of the victims.  No attempt is made to turn Pitchfork into an anti-hero and the movie is relentlessly grim.

Hayride 2 is an odd film.  The film’s low-budget is obvious in every single scene.  The pacing is abysmal and the performances are amateurish.  And yet, when taken on its own meager terms, it has a dream-like intensity to it that I appreciated.  Then again, I always have had a weakness for low-budget, regional horror films.

Hayride 2 is available on Netflix.

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Insurgent (dir by Robert Schwentke)

Insurgent is both the sequel to Divergent and was also 2015’s first YA dystopia film.  Shailene Woodley is as good as ever and I guess it’s good that she has a commercially successful franchise, which will hopefully inspire audiences to track down better Shailene Woodley films like The Spectacular Now.  

All that said, Insurgent often felt even more pointless than Divergent.  For a two-hour film featuring performers like Woodley, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller, Insurgent has no excuse for being as forgettable and boring as it actually was.  The next installment in The Hunger Games can not get here soon enough.

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Poltergeist (dir by Gil Kenan)

When a family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a new house, they discover that everything is not what it seems.  For one thing, they come across a bunch of creepy clown dolls.  They also hear a lot of scary sounds.  They discover that the house was built on an old cemetery.  Their youngest daughter vanishes.  And finally, someone says, “Isn’t this like that old movie that was on TCM last night?”

Okay, they don’t actually say that.  However, as everyone knows, the 2015 Poltergeist is a remake of the 1982 Poltergeist.  Since the 1982 Poltergeist still holds up fairly well, the 2015 Poltergeist feels incredibly unnecessary.  It has a few good jump scenes and it’s always good to see Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt in lead roles but ultimately, who cares?  It’s just all so pointless.

Watch the wall-dancing original.  Ignore the remake.

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Tomorrowland (dir by Brad Bird)

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!  Wow, is it ever boring!

Actually, I feel a little bit bad about just how much I disliked Tomorrowland because this is a film that really did have the best intentions.  Watching the film, you get the sinking feeling that the people involved actually did think that they were going to make the world a better place.  Unfortunately, their idea of a better world is boring and almost oppressively optimistic.  There is no room for cynicism in Tomorrowland.  Bleh.  What fun is that?

Anyway, the film basically steals its general idea from the Atlas Shrugged trilogy.  Tomorrowland is a secret place that is inhabited by inventors, dreamers, and iconoclasts.  Years ago, Frank (George Clooney) was banished from Tomorrowland because, after learning that the Earth was destined to end, he lost “hope” in mankind’s future.  Fortunately, he meets Casey (Britt Robertson), who is full of hope and through her, he gets to return.  They also get a chance to save the world and battle a cartoonish super villain played by Hugh Laurie.  (Why is he a villain?  Because he’s played by Hugh Laurie, of course!)

After all the hype and build-up, Tomorrowland turned out to be dull and predictable.  What a shame.  The Atlas Shrugged trilogy was at least fun because it annoyed the hipsters at the AV Club.  Tomorrowland is just forgettable.

Here’s the third trailer for Tomorrowland!


PCASDammit, is Tomorrowland going to be any good or not?  A third trailer for the film was released yesterday and I still can’t make up my mind.  If I had to guess, I’d say that this will probably be technically impressive and narratively traditional.  But who knows?  I choose to have hope that it’ll be great.