Monthly Archives: November 2013

Goofs in The Grudge

Does spotting goofs help you get through a scary movie? By popular demand, here’s a short list of what you can watch for in The Grudge to help you cope with a very scary movie:

  • The message Susan leaves on the answering machine is a little bit different when Karen first hears it than when the detectives hear it again later in the movie, and when we actually see Susan leaving it. Listen carefully – it’s never quite the same!
  • The-Grudge-Remake-Sarah-Michelle-Gellar-Shower-Scene-GifWhen Karen is in the shower, after the hand comes out of her head, she spins around in the shower real quick and you can see that she’s not naked, she’s weirdly showering in a black tube top.
  • When Karen’s searching the net, the fake-Google she’s using is rife with spelling errors. Some poor intern set that up a little tooimages quickly!
  • When Karen first goes to Emma’s home, she opens the door, then the camera pans over wrappers and crap on the floor. Then it cuts to an overhead shot, and all the garbage has moved around magically!
  • When Susan leaves her apartment when Matthew rings the bell, the door slams shut behind her. When she turns around to go back in, the door is open. This happens all the time in movies. The sets are so flimsy, you see someone slam the door behind them, but instead of clicking into place it actually bounces back. They’ll stick in a convincing door-slam noise, but they have to cut away quickly or you’d see it swing way open.
  • In the first scene with Yoko, you can clearly see a crew member in the background. You get a glimpse of them again as a reflection in the banister when Susan enters the stairwell.
  • At the end, before Karen enters the morgue, she has a lot of blood and bruises in her face. Seconds later, inside the room, she appears with less blood than before, especially on the right side of her face. They must have called a lunch break in between shots, or else Karen’s got some mystical healing powers she didn’t tell us about.

See? You can do this thing!

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How Many Oscar Winners Does it Take to Save a Piece of Shit?

The Big Wedding stars FOUR Oscar winners: Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams.

weddingdeniroSo the answer to the question is: at least 5. It takes at least 5 Oscar winners to save a piece of shit; four were definitely not enough.

The premise: a long-divorced couple (Keaton & DeNiro) have to pretend to still be married on the occasion of their adopted son’s wedding (Ben Barnes, white guy, not remotely Columbian, to Amanda Seyfried), to keep up appearances in front of his religious biological mother, who is visiting all the way from – you guessed it – Columbia.

Flimsy? You bet. It’s exactly the kind of role I hate to see Diane Keaton doing these days, and now she’s dragging Susan Sarandon down along with her (playing her former best friethe-big-weddingnd and current flame of the ex-husband). Ladies at this stage in their career should not have to resort to slapstick.

Topher Grace and Katherine Heigl round out the cast as the two other unlucky-in-love kids, heaping contrived subplot onto contrived subplot. And then Robin Williams shows up as the drunk but devout Catholic priest who’s set to marry these two crazy kids, despite the racist protests of a soon-to-be in-law unfortunately named Muffin (beige grandbabies alert!). Um, haven’t we seen Robin play this exact thing before?

Anyway, you won’t think this movie is good, but if you’re in the right mood – like, in bedThe-big-weddingoscarwinners with a bad head cold, for example – you might find it…passable. Like, if it’s playing on TV and you can’t find the remote, you could do worse. And maybe you just need a little schmaltz in your life: nothing wrong with that. Don’t admit to it, maybe, but enjoy it with a bowl of popcorn, or maybe melty ice cream, because let’s face it: the movie itself is cheesy enough to clog your precious arteries.

 

 

This Means War

I’m not usually one for guilty pleasures; I take a lot of pleasure, and feel very little guilt. But there’s just something about this movie that makes me a) like it, and b) feel bad about liking it.

It’s a romance. There, I said it. It’s an unconventional romance, but still. Reese WiTom-Hardy-This-Means-War-tom-hardy-30869114-2560-1706therspoon, who does little to lend the film credibility, plays a product testing executive who loves her job which leaves little time for anything else. But her crazy friend Chelsea Handler signs her up to an online dating site and by the next morning she’s dating not one but two very handsome, very eligible bachelors.

Bachelor #1: a devoted single father, hard-working Tom Hardy. thismeanswarPolite, romantic, safe, sweet.

Bachelor #2: ladies’ man, man about town Chris Pine. Knows all the right movies, uses them liberally.

The catch (there’s always a catch): the two suitors are actually best friends. And also, they’re both CIA.

this_means_war_Chris_Tom1So when they decide to date her concurrently so that she may pick between them, they of course go off the chain on security details, intel, the works. It’s like dating on steroids – and yet, idiotically, she never notices.

Predictably, she likes them both. And is also overheard reporting on their flaws: Chris Pine’s tiny hands, Tom Hardy’s being, unforgivably, British.

But there’s a charming chemistry between all 3 of them – perhaps most convincingly between the two men (now there’s a movie I’d Chelsea Handler romcomnever feel guilty about loving!). And Chelsea Handler keeps popping up to offer vulgar advice, injecting a Reese Witherspoon movie with a little more edge than usual.

McG’s work is clumsy, but the movie is fun and breezy and a tiny departure from the Tuck-Means-Warnorm. But really, let’s be honest: Tom Hardy. It’s really just a straight hour and a half of Tom Hardy gazing, with just enough bombs and bullets that, if you’re lucky, your husband won’t even notice what you’re up to.

tumblr_mp76gawha31qe5f96o6_r1_1280

Truth or Dare

During Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition tour, she was filmed nearly constantly and the footage was strung together to make this behind the scenes documentary. At the time it was both lauded and condemned for being wild (she exposes her breasts!) and lewd (a gay kiss!). 25 years and a whole lotta Madonna later it almost seems whimsical but it still works as a nostalgia piece.

In fact, watching Truth or Dare, I can’t decide what lights up my nostalgia more – the costumes, or the dance moves. And it definitely makes me wonder how Madonna feels about them looking untitledback. If you were a fan of Sex and the City, you may remember a certain episode towards the end where Carrie was tasked with cleaning out her closet. She tries on various costumes that fans recognized instantly from the series, while her friends yayed or nayed them. It was a perfect send-up to the whole era of SATC but should Madonna do the same I think the whole world might implode. Of course we all remember the cone-bras and that’s something that doesn’t really age because it’s iconic. The bustier layered on top of wide-legged trousers, however, feel like a much bigger mistake in retrospect, but one I’m glad to relive (as long as she’s the one caught on camera wearing it!).

There’s also a fair bit of celebrity gossip on hand because Madonna was of course dating (and breaking up with) Warren Beatty at the time. Beatty is definitely not fond of the constant cameras and you’ve got to wonder if they weren’t partially responsible for their parting (although Madonna’s hectic schedule and near-constant touring when health permits can’t have been easy either). Despite it being Warren in the picture, when Madonna is asked who the love of her life has been, she names Sean [Penn]. How much would you wager she’d answer the same today? Madonna herself doesn’t seem to court a lot of celebrity friends and she’s muchenhanced-buzz-30479-1378239971-15 too busy working to be out partying. A fair number do stop by to watch her concert and bump fists with her afterward, and the best cameo goes to Kevin Costner – no, to Kevin Costner’s mullet – who proves he’s beyond square by calling her show “neat” and acting rather bored.

Instead of partying, she stays in to baby her failing voice, and is often cuddled up with her dancers, decked out in fluffy hotel bathrobes. She and her dancers grow quite close during the tour, and she often talks about an intense mothering instinct that’s brought out in her. She ‘s only 32  or so, not so very much older than the dances, but in experience she’s already ancient.

There are lots of terrific Madonna moments, from being threatened with arrest for “indecency” at her Toronto Skydome concert, to reminding God that “she’s here” should he need her services during a pre-show group prayer.

I watched this as a companion piece to a more recent documentary called Strike A Pose – catching up with the dancers made famous by this documentary and her Blonde Ambition tour. Both are worth checking out, although Truth or Dare is clearly the classic.

 

The Road Within

Oh man. If you watch one questionable movie (Welcome to Me), Netflix immediately believes the worst in you and starts recommending movies for the hidden loser in all of us. I assume this is what led me to watch something as painful and thoughtless as The Road Within.

First, that smarmy title. If it sounds like a non-selling self-help book, maybe leave it at that.

road-within-the-sceneSo the formulaic story is this: three young adults find themselves at a treatment centre under the care of Kyra Sedgwick for their various ailments. So they steal her car and go on an oddball road trip while the good doctor apparently abandons all other patients in order to search for them.

Vincent (Robert Sheehan) has severe Tourette’s – he tics and swears his way through this film; the-road-withinMarie (Zoe Kravitz) is painfully thin and painfully anorexic; Alex (Dev Patel) is as OCD (obsessive-compulsive, emphasis on obsessive) as they come. Though competently acted, I often felt their afflictions teetered on being played for laughs, and this set me on edge for the duration of the film.

Writer-director Gren Wells is remaking a 2010 German film, Vincent Wants to Sea, which is slightly better but didn’t exactly scream to be remade. The thing that kills me is that lots of real-life people live with these diseases, and they The-Road-Within-Gallery-1tend to do it with a lot more grace than this movie possesses. How does it both trivialize and make a mockery of these afflictions? And why are their characters allowed to be completely defined – and even overwhelmed – by their respective challenges? Because none of them seems to have a personality. They just have illness. And that rings false.

It seems to want to avoid the sentimental ending but can’t quite resist. The trio of young actors do pretty impressive jobs considering the patronizing material they’re wrestling with, but it’s not enough to uplift the movie or to make me feel comfortable with the way it treats some pretty serious issues.

One good thing I’ll mention in regards to this movie:

REELABILITIES+JCC+MANHATTAN+Present+Special+W244hpYwfT-lREELABILITIES hosted a special screening of the movie in April 2015, which was attended by Dr. Danielle Sheypuk. REELABILITIES is a film festival dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities, which is a beautiful idea and a cause near and dear to my heart.

Danielle Sheypuk, if you don’t know her, is a ground-breaking busy-body: a licensed psychologist, media commentator, disability-rights advocate and fashion model. She’s also worn the crown of Miss Wheelchair New York and was the first woman in a wheel chair to grace the catwalk at New York fashion week, February 2014 (a year later, fashion house Carrie Hammer tapped American Horror Story Jamie Brewer to walk their show, marking the first woman with Down syndrome to appear at fashion week). Dr. Sheypuk specializes in the problems of dating, relationships and sexuality among the disabled, a necessary but taboo subject I’ll be covering in my upcoming review of The Sessions.

Smoke

Harvey Keitel plays Auggie Wren, the owner of a neighbourhood NY-BJ255_SMOKE_G_20111215184700smoke shop. One of his most loyal customers is writer Paul Benjamin (William Hurt), a man so clouded in pain that he nearly walks into traffic, saved at the last minute by a kid on the street, Rashid, played by a very young Harold Perrineau. All three of them spend the movie telling various stories, with flexible degrees of reality to them. Truth pales in comparison to an aesthetically pleasing story. The satisfaction in telling these stories is what’s important.

Rashid claims he’s hiding from a gang, but he’s really searching for the father who disappeared from his life  years ago (Forest maxresdefaultWhittaker, who is only 2 years older than Perrineau, and who wears the world’s worst prosthetic during the film – seriously, people, the fake arm is so absurdly long, we know he’s hiding a perfectly functioning hand in there, and maybe a couple of apples as well!).

Auggie encounters an old flame (Stockard Channing) who tells him that he has an 18-year-old daughter(Ashley Judd), and she’s in trouble, pregnant and addicted to crack. He’s sure she can’t be his, but gets roped into a rescue mission all the same.

smoke2This movie is meant to be enjoyed the way a cigar is, appreciated in puffs and wisps at a time, taken in and held. It’s a talky movie – it’s about the art of storytelling and focuses on the everyday, so don’t expect it to “pick up.” It’s meandering. It’s not just taking its time getting somewhere, there actually is no destination.

Director Wayne Wang worked very closely with writer Paul Auster, and it shows. This is as “literary” as a movie is capable of being – any more so, and Keitel would have sat on a stool and simply read aloud from a bosmoke3ok. The script is all meat, no gristle, and I’m sure it’s an actor’s delight. It belongs to the slow movement for sure, I’m just not sure I could bear to be part of it for much more than the film’s 112 minute running time. Keitel’s “Christmas story” toward the end of the film is a particular combination of gruelling and rewarding. Great story, but it’s just one very long take, something like 13 minutes, just Keitel’s face as he tells the story, the camera slowly closing in on it, and finally just his eyes.

And hey, if moody soliloquies don’t do it for you, there’s always this: it won an MTV movie award for best sandwich in a movie (ham and cheese). Praise be.

Why Stop Now

Jesse Eisenberg is having a terrible, no-good, very bad day. He’s a piano prodigy who needs to get to the audition that will launch his future, only he has to get his sister to school and his imagemother (Melissa Leo) to rehab first, if only her drug dealer (Tracy Morgan) will let him out of this inconvenient hostage situation.

This movie has no idea what it wants to be. It ricochets between the hijinks you’d expect from a drug dealer named Sprinkles badly in need of a Spanish translator, to the high drama of a family in turmoil, to the awful lows of the whiny, fast-talking tones of every single Jesse Eisenberg movie ever made. And was I comfortable with the white guy = piano prodigy, black guy = drug dealer dynamic? Not so much.

I suppose this film is mildly entertaining if you can forgive the fact that it doesn’t actually have why-stop-now-imageanything to say. I mean, 5 minutes after it was done, I forgot how it ended. What was the point of all of this? Somewhere between wacky and weepy it gets muddled and lost and never recovers.

Paris Is Burning

Shot between 1985 and 1989, Paris Is Burning is a documentary that explores the “ball culture” of New York City. These balls were beauty pageants of sorts, for drag queens certainly, but categories for competition tended to make room for black people, latino people, gay people, and transgendered. These categories and sub-categories are so structured that I could never explain them all to you, but people competed in “executive realness” (how well you can “pass” for a business person), for example, or showed off their catwalking skills, elaborate costumes, or dance moves.

Competitors grouped together in “houses” (like the House of Chanel), which were substitute families in a community that really needed them. Director Jennie Livingston spent years untitledinterviewing people and putting this thing together, and it’s given me insight into a world I never knew existed. Drag isn’t just a subculture here, it’s a complex thing of race and class and gender identity that allowed for a pretty wonderful self-expression.

The film brought voguing into the mainstream although it was actually just a small part of the movie. What I’ve gleaned is this:

First, reading: to get a good ‘read’ on someone, you find their flaw and you come up with a good insult about it. But the truer the flaw, the better the read. It’s not just about being mean, it’s about being shrewd I think.

Then, shade: to throw shade is to slyly insult someone. You disrespect them with trash talk.

ce88fc3c9f794ffee427b2d604b854d5And finally, voguing: which is the dance equivalent. I never knew that all these concepts were somehow interconnected, but yes, voguing is part of a dance battle where you freeze repeatedly in glamourous positions (as if you’re a model on the cover of Vogue magazine), trying to outdo each other. A few years later Madonna will bring this trend to the mainstream, white-washing it and losing its flavour, but it’s actually a pretty cool thing to watch the real stuff go down.

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner published this novel in 1930; he described it as a “tour de force”, critics consistently rank it among the top 20 novels of the 20th Century, readers describe it as “difficult” and movie producers have largely considered it unadaptable, in part because of its stream of consciousness style, and the fact that it uses 15 different narrators.

Have no fear – there is one courageous writer\director in Hollywood known for attempts feats others consider impossible, and that man is none other than James Franco.
(Wha?)
_1380174966James Franco co-wrote the script with fellow Yale graduate student Matt Rager. His first act as director was to cast himself in one of the lead roles, and then attempt to synthesize the many narrators with voice over and split screen techniques. Was I a fan of either? No I was not.

It’s an interesting story though. Addie is the mother who lays dying – well, for the first 5 minutes or so. And then she’s dead, while staring out the window at her eldest hand-crafting her coffin. She’s got 4 sons (coffin making Cash, played by True Blood’s Jim Parrack, James Franco as Darl, and Logan Marshall-Greene as favourite Jewel), a daughter, and a no-good son of a gun husband, Anse (Tim Blake Nelson). Her last wish was to be buried in her hometown so they load her unembalmed body into the old wagon and set off against all reason, and for mostly selfish reasons, it turns out. The trip does not go well. Even Danny McBride pops up to try to talk sense into them, and the minute McBride becomes the voice of aildstills314reason in your movie, you know
shit’s about to go down.

Franco’s techniques are repetitive and amateurish, but damn if he isn’t ambitious.I don’t always understand Franco’s career choices, nor do I believe there’s necessarily a lot of forethought put into some of them, but I do admire his desire to try his hand at as much as possible. It just didn’t translate here. I was confused a lot of the time (despite the fact that I’ve read the book numerous times) and had to pause and rewind a couple of times just to be sure I had things straight (thanks, Netflix!). Maybe this one should have remained unadapted (and maybe 207dade5661c77bbfd100a86319e03deNelson’s teeth could have remained unrotted, while I’m wishing out loud). It’s messy and a bit cold and feels more like an art installation that accessible story-telling (an academic experiment? his thesis, maybe?). Yes, Faulkner’s words are weighty, but they’re also deeply affecting, and I think Franco’s biggest fail is that he hasn’t engaged me into a story that I know is all about the feels.

Boo.

Escape From Tomorrow

The great thing about Netflix is that you get to watch free movies online. Okay, maybe not exactly free, but once you’ve paid your negligible monthly fee, there’s a whole buffet of movies just waiting for your fat ass to partake – and it’s all you can eat! Some movies are more salad bar, and some are more sundae bar, but if you take a little of each, you’ll end up with a nicely rounded meal.

Escape-From-Tomorrow-PosterI happen to have a soft spot for independent film, but those are like the shrimps of an all you can eat buffet in Vegas. Tempting, but dicey. You never know if you’re going to score with cheap and delicious seafood, or win a free trip to the nearest toilet, where you’ll stay for the rest of your vacation. But since I like to live on the edge, I gave Escape From Tomorrow a go.

A debut for writer and director Randy Moore, it’s a black and white fantasy horror that recounts the last day of a family vacation where the father has just learned that he’s lost his job. It was shot guerrilla-style in the Disney World park without Disney’s knowledge or consent. They kept scripts eft2hidden on iPhones and used only handheld cameras that other tourists might use. They were never discovered.

The family vacation is not like a trip to Disney that I’ve ever been on. The rides and animatronics are familiar, they seem the same parades of characters, but poor unemployed dad starts to have some really disturbing visions. Like, super disturbing.

The film makers plotted the sun’s positioning weeks in advance since they knew they couldn’t bring it lighting, but chose to render it in black and white to help ease the issue. To avoid detection, Moore escape-from-tomorrowfelt he could risk 3 or 4 takes of any given scene at most, and he had his actors wear digital recorders taped to their bodies rather than have visible mics. The cast and crew bought season passes to both Disney World and Disney Land, and despite the fact that they rode It’s a Small World over and over wearing the exact same clothes, they never attracted attention from park staff.

Moore was so paranoid about Disney finding out, he took the film to South Korea for editing. It debuted at Sundance under shrouds of secrecy – and you can understand that a film that shot illegally in its parks and depicted the princess characters who pose endlessly for photos with your maxresdefaultkids as high-priced hookers for Asian businessmen might be frowned upon by the house of mouse. Reviewers encouraged people to “see it while they could” but a Disney lawsuit never materialized. They have widely ignored the film, choosing not to add to the hype machine that was quickly gaining steam.

At the end of the day though, I think this movie is more fun to discuss than to watch. Yes, it’s audacious and ballsy and possibly the future of film-making. But it’s only sometimes successful in its execution, and the surreal stuff pushes the boundaries a little too far. There’s an intermission an hour in (I could have sworn it was more like 3) – and I was ready to be done. Turns out, the worst was still to come. So did this little Netflix experiment turn out to be bad shrimp? It may have made me a little queasy, but I’m glad I gave it a chance.