Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


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Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.

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Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.

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Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.

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Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.

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Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.

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Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

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Insomnia File No. 6: Frogs For Snakes (dir by Amos Poe)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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If you were suffering from insomnia last night, at around two a.m., you could have turned over to Flix and watched the 1998 film Frogs For Snakes.

And if you were suffering from insomnia, watching Frogs For Snakes would probably have been a good idea because this film is amazingly dull.  In fact, I am not sure that I have the words to express to you just how tedious Frogs For Snakes truly was.  It may be necessary for me to go back to school and learn how to speak in a dead language in order for me to express the boredom that I felt while watching Frogs For Snakes.

And yes, I realize that I’m talking about an obscure film that was released nearly 20 years ago and it might seem kind of petty to, at this late date, make a big deal about how terrible this film was.

But seriously, Frogs For Snakes was really, really bad.  In fact, it was disturbing to think that a film this bad could have actually been made.  It was even more disturbing to consider that this film was apparently given a theatrical release and, all these years later, still pops up on cable so that it can proudly display its overwhelming mediocrity.

Now, I’m going to tell you what Frogs For Snakes is about and you’re going to think, “That actually sounds like it might be kind of interesting.”  Don’t be fooled!  The film may sound interesting but it’s not.

Frogs for Snakes takes place in a stylized, neo-noir version of New York City.  Eva Santana (Barbara Hershey) is an aging actress who claims to have quit the business, though it’s clear that it’s more a case of the business quitting her.  She talks about leaving New York and raising her son in a better environment.  However, until she gets around to leaving, she’s making ends meet by working as a waitress at a diner owned by the kind-hearted Quint (Ian Hart).  And, of course, when she’s not waitressing, she’s working as a debt collector for her ex-husband, a loan shark named Al Santana (Robbie Coltrane).

That’s right, this actress has a gun and she uses it frequently.  However, because Eva is good at heart, she rarely kills anyone.  Instead, she just shoots them in the foot and tells them to pay back their loans while they lay on the floor and scream in agony.  (All that agonized screaming got pretty old after a while.)

As for Al, he’s not just a loan shark.  He’s a theatrical impressario.  He’s planning on putting on a production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo.  He promises his driver a role in American Buffalo on the condition that the driver assassinate Eva’s new boyfriend (John Leguizamo, of course).

Soon, actors all over New York are literally killing to get a role in Al’s play.  Meanwhile, Eva just wants to retire and get out of New York but first, she has to do one last job for Al…

In between all the killing, the characters frequently launch into monologues that have been lifted from other films.  John Leguizamo does a Brando imitation.  Lisa Marie (Tim Burton’s ex, not yours truly) delivers the cuckoo clock speech from The Third Man.  A suggestion for aspiring filmmakers: if you’re going to make a bad film, don’t remind your audience that they could be watching The Third Man instead.

Anyway, the plot sounds interesting but none of the potentially intriguing ideas are explored.  I imagine that the film was meant to be a satire of Off-Broadway ruthlessness but ultimately, the film is just another tediously violent indie film from the 90s.  This is one of those movies where nobody can do anything without spending an excessive amount of time talking about it beforehand and, when things do turn violent, it’s the worst type of quirky, sadistic, drawn-out, “look how crazy we are” violence.

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Al shoots a group of people in a bar.  This is intercut with clips from the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin.  As Al leave, he shoots the TV showing Battleship Potemkin and, I have to say, that really annoyed me.  Seriously, just as a bad filmmaker should not remind people that they could be watching The Third Man, he shouldn’t invite them to compare his film to Battleship Potemkin unless he’s willing to back up the comparison.  When Al shot the TV, I found myself hoping that Sergei Eisenstein would pop up and shoot him.

Frogs for Snakes is one of the worst films that I’ve ever seen.  It may, in fact, be the worst but I would need to rewatch Ted 2 before I said that for sure.  But, if you have insomnia, Frogs For Snakes will at least put you to sleep.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice

 

6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me


Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.

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1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.

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2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.

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3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.

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4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.

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5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

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6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.

Quick Review: Chef (Dir. by Jon Favreau)


One of the cool things about WordPress is that you can write on the go. 80% of this review was written from a cell phone sitting in a packed subway train.

I recently caught Jon Favreau’s new film Chef at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Heineken Best Narrative Category. The story of a Chef who falls big time and then turns a corner, the movie has some fun performances, a great soundtrack and loads of food. When the lights finally came up after the sold-out showing, the film received tons of applause. It’s a cute and compact film, so much so that most of the movie is wrapped up in the trailer. I went into the movie completely blind and loved it. As the hype machine grows, I don’t know if it’ll have the same impact, but I hope it does. Even though you know what to expect, it’s still worth the ride.

After Favreau’s fall with Cowboys & Aliens, Chef is a major scale down from the big budget flicks he’s done. This isn’t Iron Man with all of the J.A.R.V.I.S. hologram interfaces. It’s Ratatouille, minus the rats. You have food, friends, and twitter posts that take flight, spreading some word of mouth. Social Media plays a big part of Chef, and while it can date the film years from now (will Twitter and Vine even be around then?), it makes sense for the moment.

So, what’s the story? Chef Carl Caspar loves what he does, being the head Chef at a major restaurant and expressing his creativity through his different culinary dishes. With his cooking buddies at his side (John Leguizamo & Bobby Canivale) he’s the talk of the town, though it’s at the expense of his relationships, particularly the one with his young son. After a social media meltdown involving a Food Critic (played by Oliver Platt), Casper is forced to come up with a Plan B for his love of cooking. The free time gives Casper a chance to bond more with his son. As the commercials & trailers give away, the result includes a food truck.

That’s what you get, plain and simple.

The story feels a lot like Ratatouille in the way it touches on criticism at one point. The film suggests (or at least I felt I gave the suggestion) that a critic, sitting on the outside, can’t always grasp the effort that goes into creating something. Words can come across as harsh, dismissive and in some case abusive. I’m not sure I agree with that point, but that part of the storyline doesn’t hurt the film overall.

For Chef’s cast, Favreau reached out to quite a few people. From his work on the Iron Man movies, both Scarlett Johannson and Robert Downey, Jr. have small roles here. Also on tap are Dustin Hoffman and Sofia Vergara, who both put through some smile worthy performances. The film, however, belongs to Favreau, Leguizamo, and Emjay Anthony, who plays Casper son, Percy. Anthony in particular is the scene stealer of the movie, with his character introducing his father to the ins and outs of social media while learning a few things in the process.

As it’s a smaller film, there isn’t a lot in the way of visual effects, save for elements where Social Media is in play. Tweets are displayed in windows near characters and transform into blue birds that fly as it’s sent. It’s a cute representation of what many of us do at least once or twice a day. The same can be said for the camera work. It’s very simple, nothing too extravagant. I would almost say it’s an indie film, but considering the other films I saw at Tribeca, this felt like there was a bigger budget behind it.

If Chef suffers from any problems, it’s almost too cookie cutter clean. It’s not very damaging, but if your mindset is more cynical or critical, you may find the Casper route from his Plan A to Plan B a little out there, perhaps too easy. It does show how important networking is, that much I’ll say.

One of Chef’s major standouts is the soundtrack, a mixture of Latin Music, New Orleans big brass, and what I can only describe as “Jazzy Hip Hop”. A band called El Michaels Affair has a version of the Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M. that’s a smooth mix of a classic. The soundtrack is already available for purchase and the songs are all on Spotify. If you can, it’s definitely worth giving them a listen.

Chef is currently playing in select theatre’s in NYC and L.A.

Dance Scenes I Love: John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino in Summer of Sam


Today’s dance scene that I love comes from Spike Lee’s frustrating yet brilliant 1998 film, Summer of Sam.  In this scene, a perpetually unfaithful husband (John Leguizamo) dances with his wife (Mira Sorvino).  In this scene, Lee establishes the dynamic of Leguizamo and Sorvino’s troubled marriage.  Leguizamo may be the man but Sorvino is definitely the star.

Trailer: Kick-Ass 2 (Extended Red Band)


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This past week saw the largest collection of nerd, geek and comic book fandom gathered in one magical place. The place in question is San Diego and the event is called San Diego Comic-Con or simply just uttered in awed whispers as Comic-Con. It is a place that many outsiders have shunned as a place that has no place in good, normal society yet they continue to arrive in larger numbers to ply their products to those they shun. Even this blog has it’s shamers and ignorant individuals who spew insults yet they too continue to visit because deep in their subconscious they know, like those who ridicule Comic-Con and those who attend them with a passion, that they’re the ones out of step with whats not accepted in society.

What does this mean when it comes to the latest trailer for Kick-Ass 2 that just came out of Comic-Con?

Absolutely nothing other than the trailer and the film itself is just another weird meeting of the two cultures. It’s a film that celebrates the ridiculousness and absurdity of the comic book culture, yet it’s one that’s funded by the very same people who insulted the scene just a decade ago.

The first film was a revelation and helped introduced the world to one Chloe Grace Moretz, but it also showed that comic books and films made from them didn’t have to be PG or even PG-13. There was a place for ultra-violence in our comic book films. It also helped bring the name of Matthew Vaughn into the forefront of comic book fandom. While he’s not directing this sequel (he elected to go with X-Men: First Class and we’re all the better for it), he did help in bringing it to life and hand-picked his successor in Jeff Wadlow.

While Kick-Ass 2 is not getting the same sort of buzz from Comic-Con the original film did it is still one film I’m quite interested in seeing just to find out what has happened to our young superheroes and vigilante crime fighters since the last film. Plus, it’s main villain likes to call himself “Motherfucker”.

Trailer: Kick-Ass 2 (Red Band)


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2010’s Kick-Ass was one of those films that you either loved or hated. It was a film adapted from the Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. comic book of the same name that also had a similar reputation of having extreme opposites in regards to how people perceived it.

I, for one, loved the film despite just being “meh” when it came to the comic. Where the film by Matthew Vaughn was a darkly comic deconstruction of the superhero story the comic book that gave birth to it was just an exercise in shocking the readers without working for it. Yet, despite that the film was a hit with both the fans of the comic book and those who didn’t even know it was a comic book. That popularity allowed the film to make enough profit that a sequel was greenlit even before a second volume of the comic book was even started by Millar and Romita, Jr.

Kick-Ass 2 sees the return of both Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass with Red Mist now calling himself The Motherfucker and the film’s main antagonist. The sequel sees Matthew Vaughn return as producer with Jeff Wadlow stepping in as director.

Kick-Ass 2 is set for an August 16, 2013 North American release date with the film premiering earlier on July 19, 2013 in the UK.