SXSW 2020 Review: Vert (dir by Kate Cox)


Happy 20th anniversary, Emelia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Jeff (Nick Frost)!

Emelia and Jeff are the couple who are at the center of the 12 minute short film, Vert.  They are the one of those couples who you just like from the minute that you see them together.  They have that sort of easy rapport that one would expect a couple to have after managing to stay together for 20 years.  They both live in a nice house.  They both appear to be very happy with their lives.  In fact, everything about them seems to be almost perfect.

What anniversary present do you get for the perfect couple?  How about a virtual reality system?  Through the use of “Vert,” Emelia and Jeff can not only go to a virtual world but they can also get a glimpse of their “ideal selves.”  I know, that sounds like kind of a crazy idea, doesn’t it?  I mean, how does anyone truly know who their ideal self would be?  Well, Vert knows!

And soon, Emelia and Jeff know as well….

Vert is one of those films that I watch and I wonder if maybe people in movies just don’t watch Black Mirror.  If they did, they would surely know better than to enter any sort of virtual reality.  But, what makes Vert such a thought-provoking film is how Emelia and Jeff react to what they discover in that virtual world.  Just a few years ago, the plot of Vert probably would have been played for easy laughs but today, it’s played for poignant and emotional drama.  In its way, Vert is a film that shows how far society and culture have come and also how far it has yet to go.

Vert is a nicely shot film, full of atmospheric images.  The cast all give sincere and believable performances and Nikki Amuka-Bird, in particular, does a good job with her role.  Vert is currently available, for a limited time, on Prime.

Film Review: Tomb Raider (dir by Roar Uthaug)


It seems somewhat appropriate that the new Lara Croft is played by an actress best known for starring in a (very good) movie about artificial intelligence because the latest Tomb Raider film is so generic that it feels as if it could have been written by a robot.

Now, before I get too critical,I should acknowledge that the first 30 minutes of the film is actually a lot of fun.  When we first meet Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), she’s making her living a bike courier in London.  She delivers food to the hungry, except for when she’s boxing or engaging in bicycle races.  Despite the fact that she comes from a fabulously wealthy family, Lara refuses to accept her inheritance because accepting it would mean acknowledging that her missing father, explorer Richard Croft (Dominic West), is dead.  For those 30 minutes, the film has a fun, kinetic feel to it. As I watched those scenes, I realized that I’d actually be more than happy to watch a full-length film just about people racing around London on bicycles.

(Of course, there’d have to be some dancing, too.  There always has to be dancing.)

But then Kristin Scott-Thomas shows up and informs Lara that, unless she claims her inheritance, Andrew’s estate will be sold off.  At this point, the whole film starts to go downhill.  Naturally, before signing the papers that would declare Andrew to be deceased, Lara stumbles across one final message from her father.  In the message, he asks her to destroy all of his research.  Instead, Lara decides to go to Hong Kong so that she can investigate her father’s disappearance.

(Before she can leave, she has to get money from a pawnbroker who is played, in a rather lengthy cameo, by Nick Frost.  Frost mostly seems to be there so that the audience can go, “Hey, it’s Nick Frost!”)

You can probably already guess everything that happens once Lara arrives in Hong Kong.  It’s hardly a spoiler to inform you that Richard’s not dead and that he’s spent the last few years on an isolated island, trying to prevent the bad guys from tracking down an ancient tomb, one that Richard believes will destroy the world if it’s discovered.  It’s also not a spoiler to tell you that Lara spends a lot of time running through the jungle and trying to escape from collapsing caves.  That’s pretty much what you would expect from a movie called Tomb Raider but, even though the film is presumably giving the audience what they want, it just falls flat.

The problem is that, with the exception of those opening scenes in London, this version of Tomb Raider just isn’t much fun.  As good an actress as she is, Alicia Vikander never really seems comfortable in the role of being an action girl.  Vikander’s great when she’s racing around London and refusing her inheritance but, once she finds herself in the jungle, she just seems lost.  In fact, the only person who seems to be more lost than Alicia Vikander is Walton Goggins, who goes through the motion’s as the film’s villain but who never seems to be that invested in the character one way or the other.  Among the main cast, only Dominic West appears to be enjoying himself.  There’s nothing subtle about West’s performance but that’s exactly what a film like this needs.  Director Roar Uthaug is obviously comfortable with directing action scenes but there’s little of the wit or attention to detail necessary for this film to truly make an impression.

It’s not a terrible movie, don’t get me wrong.  Though it seems like it takes forever for Lara to actually reach it, the tomb is nicely realized and the film features a great score from Junkie XL.  But, ultimately, the most memorable thing about this new Tomb Raider is how forgettable it is.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

Quick Review: The World’s End (dir. by Edgar Wright)


the_worlds_end_12-620x918A strange thing happened on the way to seeing The World’s End. With the audience seated for the film, we all watched as the credits began. When I saw that Constantin Film was involved, I thought to myself, “Wait, wasn’t Edgar Wright’s films mostly Working Title Productions? This is different.” Turns out the movie that started playing was The Mortal Instruments, the result of which had a few moviegoers groaning and actively talking about the film. Someone actually cried out “It’s the King of the North!” after seeing Lena Headey and her co-star who barely resembled Robb Stark. After about 5 minutes of this, the film was shut down, the reel replaced and The World’s End was ready to begin.

The World’s End marks the final film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Flavors Trilogy. The Cornetto (which look like King Cones here in the states) was something of a joke in Shawn of the Dead with the color red, and then had a return appearance in Hot Fuzz with the color blue. The World’s End has a connection with green when it comes to Cornettos.

The film reunites Wright with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and in a twist from the previous films together, it’s Pegg whose character is the over the top one with Frost as the straight man. I’ll admit that I walked in this actually expecting the opposite, and found myself chuckling when it didn’t turn out that way.  Surrounded by a cast made up of Wright regulars like Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Martin Freeman (Love Actually, The Hobbit), along with some new faces in Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike, there isn’t a cast member that feels out of place here. Even when the story feels like it’s about to lull, there’s some weird quip or moment that invoked a laugh or chuckle in the audience.

The World’s End is the story of Gary King (Pegg), who as a teen growing up in small town, dared to do the impossible with his friends. The plan was to make a run to 12 different pubs in the town, have a pint of beer in each one, leading up to the final pub called The World’s End. In the initial attempt, they managed to get about 3/4ths of the way through before getting so smashed that they had to bail out. Time passes, as it always does and the old gang has grown up, moved on to different lifestyles and in some cases, built families. King, on the other hand, is very much stuck in his own time period spending the bulk of his time reliving his glory days. He’s that guy that talks about his High School Football days as if  they were yesterday, some 20 odd years later. This is a running theme through the film – the notion that being caught up in nostalgia is not as great as it ever appears, and that being too nostalgic – living too much in the past –  could possibly suggest that one isn’t appreciating what they have right now, nor are they looking forward to anything. Sometimes, you just can’t go home…or can you?

King decides to get his friends together for one last run on The Golden Mile. As they go from pub to pub, they go over various events in their lives and start to notice (in true Wright fashion) that something really weird seems to be going on in the town. As things begin to unravel, they come to find that actually are in real danger and need to get past all of their issues if they’ll get through it. Just like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the second half of film becomes something of a horror thriller with comedy throughout. Elements of The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers become noticeable as the team tries to survive. That’s pretty much it. Take the recent This is the End, add a few beers and a tighter script and you have The World’s End. The first half of the movie may seem slow, but it does pick up, and pick up well.

Pegg and Frost are the grounding forces to The World’s End. Their performances (particularly Pegg’s) are what keeps it all afloat when it seems like the story might unravel. If the film suffers from any problems, is that it’s something of a downshift for Wright compared to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There are a number of action moments in The World’s End, but at the same time, they don’t quite have the umph factor of Wright’s other films. By the time you reach the end, you may actually find yourself scratching your head over what you’ve seen, but then again, the ending of Shaun of the Dead didn’t quite make sense to me either. Not saying that it could have all been better (as I may see it again before the weekend is out), it’s just different.

Overall, The World’s End is a fun ride into the past of a series of characters that will remind you to focus on the present, and laugh while doing so. It’s a fitting close to these films, even if it isn’t the sharpest film in the set (for me that remains Hot Fuzz). If only they served beers at the movie theatres, that would be perfect.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Adventures of TinTin (dir. by Steven Spielberg)


Originally, this was supposed to be the year of Steven Spielberg.  After all, Spielberg had two major films open within days of each other and, earlier this year, various know-it-all pundits declared that both of these films (along with David Fincher’s dumbed down version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) would be major awards contenders.  This was, of course, before films like Hanna, The Artist, Drive, and The Tree Of Life came out and made Spielberg’s trademark suburban cinematic vision seem almost quaint.  Spielberg’s two films — The Adventures of TinTin and War Horse — both very much remain in the hunt for nominations but few seem to be expecting them to actually win anything.  Oddly enough, it’s as if Spielberg’s films somehow went from being overrated to underrated before they were even released.

I haven’t seen War Horse yet (and the commercials don’t fill me with hope) but, in the case of TinTin, this is unfortunate because I saw the film on Friday and it’s a perfectly enjoyable animated film that, while never reaching the intertextual heights of Rango or matching the “awww” factor of Puss in Boots , is still a bit more memorable than Pixar’s Cars 2.  Based on a Belgian comic book, (which I had never heard of before so don’t expect me to get into the whole debate about whether Spielberg does the original justice) The Adventures of TinTin is about a “boy reporter” named TinTin (voiced by the always likable Jamie Bell) who, along with his adorable dog Snowy, ends up going on a quest for lost treasure.  The film plays out like an old-fashioned adventure film with TinTin and Snowy’s quest taking them from one exotic locale to another.  Continually, they find themselves getting captured by various bad guys and having to escape in some properly exciting manner.  Along with the way, they meet an alcoholic sea captain (voiced by Andy Serkis) and a whole variety of flamboyant characters.  My favorite characters were the two well-meaning but inept police detectives, Thompson and Thompson.  Thompson and Thompson are voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and the two of them have so much chemistry and play off each other so well that they’re even fun to just listen to.

When I saw The Adventures of TinTin, I was sincerely surprised by how quickly the film moved.  Usually, I find that the majority of Spielberg films tend to drag in the middle.  Whenever there’s nothing to blow up or an excuse to fill the scene with soaring music conducted by John Williams, Spielberg seems to lose his way as a filmmaker and can almost seem desperate in his attempts to convince us that he’s a serious artist.  However, it almost seemed as if The Adventures of TinTin was over before it even started.  This is not a film that drags but instead one that cheerfully leaps from one action sequence to another.  It’s as if working on an animated film freed Spielberg up from his inherent need to remind us that he’s a respectable filmmaker.  For once, he’s willing to just have fun without trying to justify it.  Since I was seeing the film with two hyperactive children (my nephew who is five and my niece who is three), I was happy and relieved that the film didn’t have any slow spots.  The movie, as a matter of fact, held their attention better than it held mine and all three of us loved Snowy.  An important lesson for all aspiring filmmakers: If you’re ever in doubt, always cut to a small animal doing something cute.

Ultimately, TinTin is an enjoyable little film that really doesn’t add up too much.  This isn’t another Toy Story 3 or a How To Train Your Dragon.  This is not a film to bring tears to your eyes but it’s enjoyable enough and it’s a rare Spielberg film that seems to be unashamed of simply being message-free entertainment.

6 More Quickies With Lisa Marie: Beginners, Hall Pass, Horrible Bosses, Paul, Prom, and Terri


When I swore to myself that I would write a review of every new film I saw in 2011, I failed to take into consideration that 1) I see a lot of films, 2) I have a day job, and 3) I’m like Ms. ADHD.  So, as part of my effort to catch up, here’s 6 quickie reviews. 

Beginners (directed by Mike Mills)

Beginners opened with a lot of critical hype earlier this year and, though it’s not quite as great as it’s being made out to be, it still deserved the majority of that praise.  At the very least, I retain better memories of Beginners than I do this summer’s other similarly hyped film, A Better Life.  Ewan McGregor is an artist who struggles to come terms with the death of his gay father (Christopher Plummer) while falling in love with a French actress (Melanie Laurent).  The autobiographical film effortlessly shifts from flashbacks to Plummer’s life in-and-out of the closet to McGregor’s relationship with Laurent and the end result is a meditation on love, secrets, and life.  Most of the pre-release buzz dealt with Plummer’s performance but, honestly, Plummer is good but you never forget you’re watching Christopher Plummer and Goran Visnjic, who plays Plummer’s boyfriend, overacts.  The film really belongs to Ewan McGregor who gives one of his best performances in this film.  Seriously, does any actor fall in love as wonderfully as Ewan McGregor?

Hall Pass (directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly)

Best friends Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis are given a “hall pass” (i.e., permission to cheat) by their spouses (Jenna Fischer and Cristina Applegate).  The film’s forgettable but seriously, guys, don’t go asking us for a hall pass, okay?  One interesting point is that this film was co-written by the guy who won the first season of Project Greenlight.  Remember that show? 

Horrible Bosses (directed by Set Gordon)

Jason Sudekis also appeared in another comedy this year and if Hall Pass is one of the year’s most forgettable comedies, than Horrible Bosses is one of the best.  Basically Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Sudekis are stuck working for horrible bosses (played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston) and they decide that the only way to handle the situation is to commit mass murder.  There’s a lot I could say about this film but chances are, you’ve already seen it.  Therefore, you already know that this is a rare dark comedy that actually has the guts to be truly dark.  You also know that the entire cast brings an almost heroic sincerity to their often bizarre roles with Charlie Day’s misunderstood sex offender as an obvious stand-out.  Probably the best advice that I can give in this review is to enjoy and appreciate this film while you can before the inevitable sequel comes out and screws up all these good memories.

Paul (directed by Greg Mottola)

I didn’t see Paul when it was first released in theaters because the trailer really made it look kinda awful.  However, I did eventually give it a shot OnDemand and I was pleasantly surprised.  Two English sci-fi fanboys (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are taking a road trip to visit all of the major UFO sites in the U.S.  This leads to them meeting an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who is being pursued by the typical guys in black suits.  Anyway, this is a predictable film and the balance between the serious and comedic is often a bit awkward.  However, it’s still a likable film and how can’t you enjoy watching Pegg and Frost?  They can make even the lamest of jokes hilarious.  Kristen Wiig steals the film as a fundamentalist who, upon being enlightened about the nature of the universe by Paul, embraces blasphemy with endearing enthusiasm.

Prom (directed by Joe Nussbaum)

No, I did not force Jeff to take me to see this when it was first released in theaters back in April.  I tried, mostly be saying things like, “Wow, Prom looks like it would be a funny movie to see and spend the whole time making mean jokes about and making all the little tweens in the audience cry…” but he saw through my ruse and, if memory serves me correct, I ended up seeing the second worst film of 2011 (a.k.a. The Conspirator) instead.  Anyway, I ended up seeing Prom OnDemand last month and it’s not really that bad.  It’s not good either.  It’s just kinda there.  In other words, Prom is incredibly meh and that’s one thing prom night should never be.  (I loved my proms, by the way, and, whenever things seem overwhelming, I often think to myself, “If only every night could be Prom Night…”)  Prom is forgettable and inoffensive but come on, tweens deserve better films.  They are the future, after all.

Terri (directed by Azazel Jacobs)

Terri made me cry and cry and was one of my favorite movies of the summer.  It’s a surprisingly poignant film that worked wonders with material that, at first glance, seemed awfully conventional.  Terri (played by Jacob Wysocki) is a sensitive, obese teenager who is taken under the wing of an unconventional assistant principal (John C. Reilly).  It’s a familiar story but director Azazel Jacobs tells this story with care and sensitivity and Wysocki and Reilly bring their characters to life with such skill that you can’t help but get caught up in their story.  Terri’s loving but senile uncle is played by Creed Bratton, who proves here that he’s capable of doing a lot more than just parodying himself on The Office.  When I went to this movie, two old women sitting behind me went, “Awwww!” at a scene where Wysocki spontaneously hugs Reilly.  The film earns the sentiment.

Most of these films are available via OnDemand or are currently available on DVD.  Horrible Bosses and Terri are scheduled to be released in October while Beginners will come out in November.