Sunday, March 29, 2015

PRESS CONFERENCE - LOVE & MERCY - Brian Wilson, Bill Pohlad, John Cusack





At the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, I attended a press conference for the film, Love & Mercy.
Present were Director Bill Pohlad, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and Actor John Cusack.

Regarding having two actors portraying Brian Wilson, Pohlad explained that they wanted to show two major periods in Brian's life; early in his career and later when he was under the influence of the psychologist, Dr. Landy.  They also wanted to shift back and forth between these two periods, rather than doing it chronologically, so it seemed more natural to have two actors for that purpose.  He went on to say that Paul Dano looks exactly like Brian did at an earlier age, and John looks like him at a later time.  

The earlier period of the l960's were shot in a warmer, more nostalgic way using Super 16, which gave it the texture they were looking for.  Whereas in the l980's, they wanted to have a cooler look because of where Brian had been brought to at that point, so when they stepped out of the studio they used 35 mm film, giving the picture a different quality.  The studio sessions were magical--to be able to shoot the film in the same room where Brian worked made them feel incredibly lucky.

Pohlad went on to say that the film was to be more like a portrait of Brian, rather than a definitive, photographic account of his life, because so much had happened to him through the years it would be impossible to capture everything in one film using the traditional bio-pic approach. 

He also noted that SXSW seemed an ideal place for the premier of the film in which the music and the film are one.

Asked about his preparation for the role, John Cusack said that Brian and his wife Melinda gave him lots of access in their home.  He spent a fair amount of time just being with them there.  In addition, he listened to the Beach Boys' music constantly, night and day, immersing himself in it.  "A soundtrack was playing in my head all the time."  Probably most important were the "Pet Sounds" album and "Brian Wilson Presents Smile" in which he could hear the maestro at work, creating sounds that would define the next thirty years of pop music. 

He approached the role more by instinct and feel, opening up himself fully, rather than trying to be too technical.  He said he was lucky in having a director with confidence, sensitivity, and passion so that Cusack could immerse himself in the music.

Another helpful person in gleaning more about Wilson's life was Gloria, the housekeeper.  She had been with Brian and Melinda the whole time, and added another dimension to the story that the filmmakers hadn't heard before.  Cusack called Melinda and Gloria Brian's two angels who look out for his interests all the time.

The most surprising thing Cusack said he learned about Brian was how much of a survivor he is, yet the amount of warmth and sensitivity he also shows--it's hard to believe all of that is in one person.  At the same time, it would be hard to overestimate his genius as a musician and an artist.  To hear him create sounds as on "Pet Sessions", you realize how talented he is.  Each of the 15 musicians had his/her own mic, and Brian might come up with, "Second oboe, put the mic one inch back."  

Regarding Paul Dano's musical ability, Pohlad said that one of Brian's band members met with him beforehand, and was astounded when Dano nailed a song of Brian's without any coaching the first time through it.  Brian added that he was surprised to see Dano in action, and felt very proud of him.

Cusack talked about how much of an honor it was to play this role.  He was most nervous about Brian, Melinda, and the band members seeing the film and feeling that he had done Brian justice.  He noted that there was added pressure of getting things right in portraying a living figure.  Having come to know Brian, capturing the feeling and sensitivity of Brian were more important than any specifics. 

Pohlad and Cusack expressed their gratitude to Brian and Melinda for their collaboration in making the film.  Brian gave them access to many of his personal notes, and they would periodically give him parts of what they had done--for instance, the script--to get his feedback and additional material he might contribute. And when asked about the film, Brian said he was very pleased with it, that it is very accurate and factual.  He said that Cusack and Banks (Elizabeth, who plays Melinda) were so attuned to him and Melinda, it almost seemed like the actors themselves were in love with each other.

Lastly, it was noted that Brian Wilson has a new album coming out and a tour in June for promotion of the album and the film.  He is excited about in the same way he always has been about new albums and tours. 

Addendum:  After the press conference, I talked briefly with one of the producers of Love & Mercy, Claire Rudnick-Polstein.  She started out as an attorney, but her interest in films led her to be first a reader, then later, a producer.  She worked for New Line and Dreamworks, and is on her own now, mainly working with the writer/producer/director,  John Wells.  She told me that when Melinda was asked why she and Brian would allow such a close-up picture of their lives, she replied that they thought it very important to get mental health issues brought up and talked about.  Rudnick-Polstein's father was a physician in the LA area at the time, and she was aware of how popular Dr. Landy was.  "It was 'in vogue' to be seeing him", she said.

Regarding the film, she said they consciously tried to strike a good balance between the music and the drama, which was important partly because Brian looks at the world musically. 

She responded to my question about knotty issues, and said the hardest was logistics--making the schedule work at different locations for the time allotted.




Friday, March 27, 2015

LOVE & MERCY

Elizabeth Banks     John Cusack     Paul Dano     Paul Giamatti



 

There is so much good to say about Love & Mercy—from the script (Michael A. Lerner, Oren Moverman), to the direction (Bill Pohlad), to the acting (above), to the music (Atticus Ross) and sound, to the cinematography (Robert D. Yeoman), and the editing (Dino Jons├Ąter).  It’s a tight production with excellence in every frame.  Normally, I dislike jumping around in time with a story—particularly a bio-pic; but it works here to increase the viewer’s sense of the turbulent inner world of Brian Wilson. 
      Director Bill Pohlad has primarily been involved in producing rather than directing, and when Love & Mercy first started, I was annoyed by the ambiguity of not knowing whether Brian Wilson was talking to himself or to someone else, and by the blank screens with only ambiguous sounds in the background.  Having seen the film, I now think it was a good strategy to heighten the suspense, and give the audience a chance to experience the disorientation and confusion that were so much a part of Wilson’s experience and the often turbulent lives of geniuses.  Also now, after having seen his film, I hope he continues to direct, using his considerable skill in composing quality works. 
      Their roles seem to be career highlights for Banks and Cusack. Banks lovingly portrays Melinda Ledbetter, letting her passion and common sense shine through.  Her eyes can convey so much one has the sense of seeing her soul inside.  Just as probably Brian did, we trust her to be true and genuinely interested in Brian for himself.  And I reveled in a beautiful blonde being characterized as assertive and wise along with her good looks.  AND, would that all our car salespersons had her winning personality and relaxed sell!  Although Dano and Cusack look nothing alike, each is able to get into Brian’s skin so securely, we eventually ignore the differences.  They are particularly good at showing the effects of pain, drugs, and creative inspirations, along with the obvious sincerity of Brian and his ability to see the larger picture, ignoring the doubts and taunts of those surrounding him throughout the early and middle years of his life.  At first I didn’t recognize Giamatti with his 60’s hairdo/hairpiece; but his voice revealed his identity to me.  He is probably one of the greatest character actors in the business.  Here, he is an exploitative, shyster insisting on complete control, a role similar to his attorney/wrestling coach Mike Flaherty in Win Win.  That character was redeemed to some extent, whereas Gene Landy suffered fitting consequences of his actions.
      Music, editing, and sound people achieved a good balance between the music and the drama, which is not always the case with this kind of film.  Here, there are fine musical highlights of Beach Boy songs, and still plenty of intimate, as well as highly dramatic material, which presumably can be credited to composer and soundtrack expert Atticus Ross (Gone Girl).  Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman (a favorite of Wes Anderson) makes pictures that fit so well with the story and are so artistic many of the scenes are made even more memorable.

Mercy!  Go see this lovely film!

Grade:  A             By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A GIRL LIKE HER

Lexi Ainsworth     Hunter King     Jimmy Bennett     Christy Engle     Amy S. Weber





A Girl Like Her is written and directed by Amy S. Weber as a drama, but is meant to be a step-by-step account of a bullying case in a high school.  It is eerily realistic, and I had to keep reminding myself the characters were actually actors playing roles.  I understand Weber based it on her own experience and on that of students she has talked with who have been bullies and victims, all of which explains why it rings so true.   It represents an extremely moving account of how bullying can get out of hand.  Wisely, Weber includes a picture of the bully’s family that illustrates so well how a child from that kind of home can initiate something like bullying.  That is, the mother (Engle) especially, uses projection as a primary defense, and bullies her husband and kids constantly.
      Jessica Burns (Ainsworth) is a rather shy student with a really good friend, Brian (Bennett), who tries to get her to report the bullying she’s getting from a childhood friend who has recently turned against her.  She is unclear about why Avery (King) has changed toward her, and refuses to confide in anyone else but Brian.  Exasperated, Brian wants to document the bullying and purchases a tiny camera that Jessica can wear like a pin or necklace.  She is terrified about what Avery would do if she finds out about it, but Brian insists that she at least think about it.  Ultimately, she does wear it, and over the next six months has recorded everything.
      She apparently gets so used to the camera that she forgets it’s on, and when she purposefully takes an overdose of Hydrocodone, that’s recorded as well.  Then, Weber shifts back and forth among scenes at school, the recording, and Jessica’s and Avery’s families.  As an added prop, she plays the part of a news reporter documenting life at the school after it’s just been ranked one of the top schools in the country, and talks Avery into being a special feature since she’s the most popular student.  Avery is flattered and eagerly agrees to do it.
      To Weber’s credit, by the end of the film, we feel almost as much empathy for the bully as we do the victim; thus the girl referred to in the title could be Jessica or Avery.  Although it’s hard to watch, I think it might be very helpful for high school students to see it and discuss it.  Sometimes the bullying scenes extend too long, but Weber is intent on getting her points across.

Good perspective on both victim and bully.

Grade:  B+                      By Donna R. Copeland

KUMIKO: THE TREASURE HUNTER

Rinko Kikuchi     David Zellner     Nathan Zellner
 


 
 
Kumiko is strange and whimsical fare that delights, puzzles, and tears at your heart.  Kumiko is a young Japanese woman who is socially withdrawn, barely making it at her job as office assistant, and spends a good deal of her time with her animals in a kind of fantasy land.  The boundaries between reality and fantasy can get blurred for her, especially if she has a strong desire for something.  She is both child and woman.
 
The American film by the Coen brothers, Fargo, has caught her fancy, and she becomes convinced that if she could just get to Fargo, North Dakota, she could find the case full of money that was buried in the snow by a criminal.  Through underhanded means, she does indeed get to Minnesota, and instead of staying on a stalled bus some hundred miles from Fargo, she decides to walk out into the snowy weather and head there on foot.  She is picked up a couple of times, but when she finds the other person is not going to take her to Fargo, she bolts.  

Kumiko does reveal her plan to the second stranger, a policeman, who is generously buying her a warmer jacket and boots.  He also gets lunch for her, and she tells him about her plan.  Of course, he tries to help her distinguish between reality and movie fantasy, but as before, when someone questions her delusion, this time she quickly runs out and gets in a taxi.

She has encountered money problems and other difficulties along the way—and this taxi driver will get stiffed.  One of her problems, which was occurring before she left Tokyo, was with her mother’s phone calls.  It is probably not by coincidence that each time, just before she runs, she has had a conversation with her mom whose only interest seems to be for her to get married and have children.  When she evades the subject, her mother quickly becomes abusive, telling her how worthless she is.

The story of Kumiko is engaging and fascinating in the way many art films are that move at a thoughtful pace, usually relate to mythological themes, and artistically express the visual and aural elements.  I see Kumiko as going on the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell)—usually undertaken by a male—in which he encounters many trials, and ultimately returns as a changed man who bestows boon on others.  This story ends much more ambiguously, and we never learn whether Kumiko served that final function or not.  

The brothers David and Nathan Zellner co-wrote and David directed this feature film that has a colorful, interesting and delightful tone to it, despite the trials Kumiko undergoes.   

Much of the strength and appeal of the film comes from the star, Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, The Brothers Bloom) who was nominated by numerous organizations for her role in Babel.  Sean Porter’s photography is outstanding, as, for example, in the beginning scene with the ocean, greenery, and a red-hooded figure walking along the beach, then later when Kumiko is in Minnesota walking in huge expanses of snow.  The music by The Octapus Project is modern, with dissonant chords and harsh sounds, which may not please everyone’s ears, but it’s effective in what it is meant to convey.

An entertaining journey that will surprise and delight.

Grade:  B                        By Donna R. Copeland

MANIA DAYS: A review and an online interview with writer/director Paul Dalio

 
Katie Holmes     Luke Kirby     Christine Lahti     Griffin Dunne     Bruce Altman 




 


Mania Days tells the story of the not-so-charmed lives of two young people who meet in a mental hospital.  Both have manic-depressive disorders and have trouble staying on their medication.  Marco (Kirby) is forcibly taken for treatment by his father (Dunne), but Carla (Holmes) was deceived when she went there to look at her old records.  The physician indicated that they needed more time to go over them, and got her to sign herself in.  Carla didn’t read carefully what she was signing, so when she wanted to leave the next day, she was told she needed her doctor’s approval.
      The two are not immediately attracted to each other until they discover they’re both poets, and soon after, they become good friends.  When they begin to explore some of Marco’s ideas about art, life, and what’s beyond, they join together on a project that keeps them up late into the night.  Based on this and their increasing mania, the doctor forbids them to work together at night.  They are persistent, however, and thus begins their struggle to make a life together. 
      What follows is a series of admissions and escapes from the hospital, conflicts with parents, and numerous escapades.  They even get separated once without having exchanged contact information, and must rely on a previously devised code for a meet-up.  Throughout most of the film, the audience cannot tell whether they will make it together or not.
      Paul Dalio, the writer/director has based the story partly on his own experience with manic-depressive disorder, one that invariably creates chaos, with questions about whether the disorder is really a sickness, whether the medication is necessary especially when it seems to dampen passion and creativity, and parental dilemmas that arise when their children reach young adulthood.  Dalio’s script gives a very good overview of what these families experience, the heartbreaking incidents that can occur, the parental challenges, and the agony of finding the proper medication and dosage.
      Holmes and Kirby are entirely convincing in their portrayals, and clearly have good chemistry as actors—not surprising, since they’re in the news as a couple.  The scenes in the hospital with other patients are entertaining—and realistically portrayed—except for the group therapy session.  I would have liked to see a more skilled leader who was actually therapeutic in his interventions.
      Overall, this is a good film for people who want to know more about the everyday experiences of families who are struggling with relatively serious mental issues.  It is objective in its approach, and clearly shows that not all of the problems that arise have easy answers.  It touches on, but does not answer, the long-standing question about whether great artists like van Gogh could have created great works if they didn’t have the disorder or had been taking medications like those currently in use.

The bumpy ride of manic-depressive disorder.

Grade:  B            By Donna R. Copeland

Paul Dalio responded to my questions about the film after the SXSW Film Festival.  (Note:  For the sake of brevity some of the questions and responses have been edited.)

1.  I see that your mentor, Spike Lee, was an executive producer of Mania Days.  What was the nature of his involvement?


Spike was my professor at NYU, where he offers to look at what his students have created and give advice.  I first gave him a rap musical called “Storytelling.”  He saw something in it that no one else—even I—had not seen.  Next, I showed him a more commercial script, and he advised me to go back to the rap musical.  He said, “If you make that your first feature, I’ll executive produce it.”  He helped me go within myself to find a story that was unique to me, and let my intuition be the critic instead of outsiders.  This led me to write Mania Days, which I took to him, asking him to be a producer, which he did.  At the premiere during the Q&A, he said, “I felt like Paul had to tell this story; it was cathartic for him.”

2.  The music in Mania Days is really fine, and I am impressed you composed it, along with writing, directing, and editing.  Do you plan to continue as much involvement in your future films?

Thanks for the compliment; the music was my favorite part.  I happen to love doing several crafts in film making.  It was helpful to compose the music for Mania Days because it’s difficult to articulate what it’s like to see through manic eyes.  I am hoping that I have proven myself to be competent in the various roles I played on this film so I can do the same in the future. 

3.  As a psychologist, I had a bit of a problem with the group leader in the film.  What was your source for that character?

I’m sorry you had a problem with the group leader.  I’ve been in several hospitals with different group leaders, and they’re all different.  Some are like the one in the film.  But in all fairness, I was seeing all of them through manic eyes.






  

TRAINWRECK

Amy Schumer     Bill Hader     Brie Larson     Tilda Swinton     Vanessa Bayer     LeBron James




Trainwreck is a successful collaboration between Amy Schumer, the writer and star, and Judd Apatow, the director, and blends together their type of humor.  I personally think Schumer elevates what Apatow might do, although she is considered pretty raw herself.  Judd saw Schumer on one of Howard Stern’s shows, and their collaboration began soon after that when he read a script she was writing and essentially taught her how it’s done, encouraging her to write about what was going on in her life.  It was the first version of this film, and when I saw its current version at the SXSW Film Festival, it was still being called a work in progress. 
            I love the way the movie opens (as seen in the preview) with Amy’s father announcing to his two daughters (of about ages 7 and 5) that “Monogamy is not realistic!”  Of course, Amy the younger had no idea what the term meant then, but by the time she is a young adult, she has taken his philosophy about marriage to heart, and diligently plays the field, ditching any man who starts to get too close.  The story is about how that’s working out for her.
            She is convinced that she loves her life and her work, which is writing for a men’s magazine, and is excited about an assignment given to her by her gutsy, unpredictable boss Dianna (Swinton, once again hardly recognizable).  The assignment is to get a profile of sports doctor Aaron Conners  (Hader), a rising star in sports medicine with LeBron James as one of his patients.  She meets Conners, they hit it off, and begin a hot romance.  Amy is unprepared for the depth of feeling that arises across time, and tests her basic philosophy to its limits with great comedic and passionate force.
            The film is not all comedy and froth; characteristic of Apatow’s films, the characters spend some time with real-life issues and character-changing moments.  So Amy’s growing knowledge of herself and her relationship with her sister (Larson) and her father in the nursing home provide opportunities for some soul-enriching, insightful moments that give the film more substance.
            Schumer is a talented actress, and Hader is just as successful here in a dramatic role as he was in a similar drama-comedy, Skeleton Twins.  Supporting cast (Larson, Swinton, Bayer) keep the quality high, as well as the “non-actors” LeBron James, along with Amar’e Stoudemire, Tony Romo, and Chris Evert in cameo roles. 

Good Schumer humor.

Grade:  A-                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

HOME

--> Voices of:  Jim Parsons     Rihanna     Jennifer Lopez     Steve Martin


-->

I was put off by Home right from the beginning by the “language” invented for the aliens from another planet, called the Boov.  It slaughters the English language by messing with the grammar, e.g., “I needs help.  You are arresting (arrested).  Can I come into the out?”  I’ll be interested to hear what children actually think of this, but I doubt they will find it very funny.  Apparently, the grammar is in Adam Rex’s 2007 book, Home, on which the film is based, and his “Smek Smeries” have been very popular, so maybe children do get a kick out of the messed up grammar.  The book was adapted for film by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember.  Home is a Dreamworks 3D production directed by Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge, Antz).
      The story is slow to get started with anything meaningful or entertaining.  We have to listen to the insufferable Captain Smek (Martin) demonstrate his idiocy.  For one thing, he has led his people to earth on the run from his archenemy, the Gorg, mistakenly thinking he is helping earthlings by relocating them to a desert somewhere.  This is done by gently vacuuming them up into the sky.  But one little girl, Gratuity “Tip” Tucci (Rihanna), has managed not to be captured, so she still remains.  She encounters one of the runaways from the Boov tribe, Oh (Jim Parsons), who is on the run from being arrested for making too many mistakes.  For instance, the lonely Oh decided to have a party and mistakenly sent the invitation to the Gorg along with everyone else.  After major difficulties in getting to know each other, Tip and Oh become allies in trying to find Tip’s mother, who was taken to the Desert Planet.
      There are sequences with Tip’s car and Oh, which are delightfully entertaining, especially when he’s able to convert it into a space ship to aid in the mother search.  As they get to know each other, Oh learns the value of family—something missing from the Boov culture—and Tip learns that the Boov aren’t all bad.   
      One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is the music.  Rihanna created a concept album for it, including her “Towards the Sun”, and incorporated additional songs by others, such as one by Jennifer Lopez (voice of mother Lucy), “Feel the Light.”  Of course, since the film is for younger children, the filmmakers again find it necessary to include fart jokes, toilet paper scenes out of context, and adding a 3rd option to #1 and #2.  It amuses me that filmmakers continue to do this; some children laugh, but most don’t.  So I’ve concluded it must be the filmmakers’ own preoccupations.
      Except maybe for the appreciation of family, it is only at the end of the film that some of Home’s important messages come through, and these are gone through so fast I doubt children will pay much attention.  They include messages about change being something good at times; it’s OK to make mistakes; and it’s important to have courage, face your problems, and deal with them. 
Home isn’t a bad film, and younger children are likely to enjoy it.

Home, Dreamworks’ elementary sci-fi adventure

Grade:  C                        By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SPY

Rose Byrne     Melissa McCarthy     Jude Law     Jason Statham     Allison Janney     Bobby Cannavale     50 Cent
 




Spy starts out with Jude Law (CIA Agent Fine) in Bulgaria aiming his gun at someone; he sneezes and the gun goes off (the first of many scenes of violence with comedy); immediately, he has to fight off 10 assailants.  At the writer/director Paul Feig’s SXSW press conference, he said that after he and the stunt coordinator choreographed the scene, he was very apprehensive when Law informed him he could come only a day in advance of filming the scene.  Not to worry, though, Feig said Law “nailed it; he should be the next James Bond.”
      Feig’s most recent film is unusual in the spy genre in that it’s filled with actresses.  Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a trained spy who works at a desk, giving instructions and directions through his earpiece to Agent Fine out in the field.  He also has her doing his household chores, and it’s obvious she is smitten with him.  But suddenly he goes off the grid, and another agent needs to go undercover to find the killer and to finish the job of locating a nuclear bomb known to be in the hands of cold and beautiful Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), daughter of a wealthy Russian.  Agent Ford (Statham) is sure he will be given the order to go by Chief Crocker (Janney), but is taken aback when Cooper volunteers on the basis that absolutely no one will know her.  Ford is insulted to be upstaged by a woman—especially this one—behaves very badly, and tries to thwart her in every move she makes.
      But it turns out that Cooper has been well trained to do fieldwork, so Crocker thinks she is the best choice.  It’s a comedown for Cooper that her new identity will be an Iowan housewife dressed in farm clothes and booked into a seedy hotel.  She is ever so resolute, however, in doing the best job possible and sets out, going to Paris, Rome, then Budapest.  To her dismay, Ford, against orders to stand down, tails her, and frequently makes mistakes, which Cooper has to handle.
     Unexpectedly—and delightfully—Cooper surprises us with her excellent skills in strategy, physical encounters, quick identity shifts, and diplomacy—whatever is called for by a situation.  When she manages to have her path cross that of Boyanov, we are in for even more thrills/comedy.  Byrne and McCarthy play off each other in a way that to women will be very realistic; Boyanov initially poking fun at Cooper in a gentile way, but gradually Cooper winning her grudging respect, not only for her appearance, but for her skills as well.  I am delighted that McCarthy is finally breaking out of the slapstick roles and using her considerable talent in something serious.
      Spy is especially gratifying for its inclusion of strong, capable women in a genre sorely lacking such roles.  At the press conference, I asked Feig what he saw in McCarthy that convinced him she would be good in an action role.  He said that, first of all, he loves filming funny women.  He grew up around women and was more comfortable with females as a child than with the horseplay of boys.  When he began his career in film, he noticed actresses weren’t being given good roles.  Then once, when there was a lull in scripts coming past his desk and he saw Skyfall, he was a bit wistful because he had always wanted to make a Bond film.  “Hey, wait!” he said to himself; “I love working with funny women.  Why don’t I write my own spy movie starring a woman?”  And the movie Spy was born.  Even though he didn’t write the Cooper character for her, when McCarthy read the script she immediately wanted the role.  He went on to say that “Melissa has power, even though she’s one of the funniest on the planet…She’s also like your best friend…not intimidating.”  My goal was to make Spy feel real, and Melissa’s just the best at that. 
      Feig said similar things about Rose Byrne after his experience with her in Bridesmaids and seeing her in Get Him to the Greek and other productions.  He noted how versatile she can be; she can be really scary and cold, but funny as well.  She knows how to inhabit a character in a way that can be funny without being forced.
      Spy is an exciting film that the viewer can become absorbed in, even with the comedy sprinkled throughout.  The actresses are very good, including Janney and Miranda Hart in supporting roles; but so too are Law, Statham, and cameos by Cannavale and 50 Cent. 

You won’t want to miss Paul Feig’s latest production.

Grade:  A By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, March 23, 2015

RESULTS

Guy Pearce     Cobie Smulders     Giovanni Ribisi     Kevin Corrigan     Tishuan Scott



Results takes place at a fitness gym, Power 4 Life, which advertises just that:  results.  It’s where the owner-manager Trevor (Pearce) keeps a cool head when trainers like Kat (Smulders) and Lorenzo (Scott) get into conflict or Kat gets too ambitious (e.g., hassling a client stopped at a stop sign for not paying her bill).  He tries to be cool when a man drops in to enroll, but has no idea what he wants to accomplish.  He seems to be going on the idea that this is what people with money do. It turns out that Danny (Corrigan) inherited a lot of money recently, and wants to spend it on whatever, for instance, offering to pay the gym fee a year in advance and offering a repairman $200 just for a TV hook-up.  Trevor senses something odd about him and wants to pair him with Scott to avoid any sticky issues, but Kat insists that she deserves the new client and can handle Danny.  So she gets him.
 
As time passes, dual relationships develop, complicating the picture and moving the film quickly into comedy.  As Danny makes efforts to get into shape—huffing and puffing—his many quirks emerge, including his making a pass at Kat, and it is apparent that she is unable to manage him after all.  Trevor steps in, but almost loses him as a client, and has to back up and try again.   They eventually become friends, but complexities continue to develop, and Ribisi shows up as Danny’s attorney, which means there is still more to resolve, including a romantic relationship.
 
These actors are all very good, and it’s refreshing to see the talented Pearce play a more “normal” character who is not smarmy or dangerous.  He, Smulders, and Korrigan have good chemistry and elevate the film from the rather weak plot.  Andrew Bujalski, the writer/director (Computer Chess, Funny Ha Ha) likes to keep things loose, which derails the progression of the story  at times. 

A light comedy for date-night, maybe.

Grade:  C+ By Donna R. Copeland

IT FOLLOWS

Maika Monroe     Keir Gilchrist     Lili Sepa     Jake Weary     Daniel Zovatto





It Follows is like an illness, something one can pass along to someone else by sleeping with him/her.  Jay (Monroe) is dating a “nice” boy named Hugh (Weary), but when they go on a date to the movies, he has to leave abruptly.  They’ve been playing a guessing game from Jay’s childhood, and when it’s time for him to guess whom she picked, she can’t see the Jay’s choice, he points to someone Jay cannot see, and when she can’t, that’s when he says he feels ill and they must leave.
       After dinner and a quiet walk in the woods, they have sex in the car, but the horror is that Jay ends up tied to a wheelchair and Hugh is walking around with a flashlight searching, for what?  Sure enough, a strange woman starts walking toward them, and he informs Jay that he has given her something like a curse, whereby she will be followed by shadowy figures, perhaps in the form of people she knows, or perhaps strangers.  She will be plagued by these with the threat of death until she sleeps with someone and gives “It” to someone else.  The catch is there is a boomerang effect such that if the person you’ve given “It” to dies too quickly you will be targeted again. 
      Hugh dumps Jay off in the street in front of her house and she is, of course, traumatized.  The police are called, and she enlists the help of her sister and friends, who are very supportive, and promise to stick right by her so that nothing will happen to her.  That would be the wise, sane thing to do, but Jay is constantly running off by herself in the dark to isolated places.  There are numerous encounters with the followers who often appear zombie-like, but no one can see them but Jay.  Hugh has disappeared, and the friends work together to identify and locate him.  They are successful, and find that his name is actually Jeff, so they find out where he lives and give him a visit.  He acknowledges everything and apologizes to Jay, but reiterates what she has to do to pass this “thing” on to someone else.
       Greg, one of Jay’s neighbors, offers to help, and takes the whole group to his family’s vacation home (as if whatever “It” is couldn’t follow them there).  This thing has supernatural powers—like being visible only to the one(s) that carries the curse.  Later, we see more powers, like the apparition not dying after its head is shot off.  After a series of accidents, Greg offers to sleep with Jay, thinking he will be able to withstand “It” and save her.  At first nothing happens, and then…  Finally, in desperation, the group decides to set up a trap in a pool, involving electricity. 
       I was not especially taken in by the horror of this film, although the group of young actors are good, as are the special sound effects (Christian Dwiggins), music (Rich Vreeland), and Mike Gioulakis’ haunting camera work with light and shadow.  I found something like 2013’s The Conjuring much more scary and horrifying.  It was easy to suspend reality and get into the action.  Here, there was a bit of jumpiness, but I was more bothered by Jay continually running off by herself into dark, isolated places, and the characters not getting in touch with parents or following up with the police after they talked to Jay the morning after her encounter with Hugh/Jeff. 
       I must say, too, that creating a situation for young people whereby they can pass something evil on to someone else in order to save themselves is rather twisted.  People have done that with sexually transmitted diseases, but that doesn’t work to save themselves, as is the case here.

Seeing things others can’t see.

Grade:  C                                   By Donna R. Copeland

Sunday, March 22, 2015

JUST JIM


Craig Roberts     Emile Hirsch
 

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Just Jim is a nifty little Indie film written, directed, and starred in by Craig Roberts.  It shows a segment in the life of an unpopular nerdy teen who lives in a fantasy world because he just can’t seem to connect with anyone, even his parents.  They’re portrayed as being inattentive to him and rather shallow, although they seem to relate to his older sister very well.  Yet, they want to help him, and try giving him a birthday party, and inviting one of his classmates for supper without asking him.  Jim is taunted by classmates, and although he makes feeble stabs at socializing, nothing works, and he retreats further into himself.
      Jim is ripe for a bad influence, and he appears in a new neighbor named Dean (Hirsch) who inserts himself into Jim’s life under the guise of helping him grow out of his pussiness with advice like, “Man up a bit; stop being a little bitch” and to be “mysterious but open.”  Dean takes Jim to have his ears pierced, get a tattoo, and to walk out of a store without paying for a drink.  He helps him win a race at school through underhanded means, and threatens the boyfriend of the girl Jim has a crush on to stay away from her or horribly bad things will happen to him and his family.
      Dean’s next step is to “inform” Jim’s parents of the things he has advised Jim to do, without telling them of his own influence.  All of this is to convince them that Jim is “crazy” and needs to be sent to a mental institution.
      Because of how the film ended, I began to wonder if Dean is a real person or someone in Jim’s imagination, who helps him explore different ways of being and ways to solve his problems.  If so, I would say, “Well done, Craig Roberts.”  It elevates what might be a good script to a more clever production.

Yes, it is all just Jim, but most interesting.

Grade:  C+                        By Donna R. Copeland