Cold in July – A hot ticket

If you live in the NYC area and are interested in seeing indie films, there are a few great places to see them, including the IFC Film Center.

So last week when I wandered by the theater, and IFC was advertising a preview of Cold In July, the new Jim Mickle film starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson, I couldn’t resist and snapped up a ticket.

Cold in July

The preview included a Q&A session with director and co-writer Jim Mickle, fellow co-writer and actor Nick Damici and one of the main actors Don Johnson. That was the final bullet in the chamber for me, so to speak.

.

Left to right - Jim Mickle, Nick Damici and Don Johnson doing Q&A at the IFC Film Center at the Cold in July preview

Left to right – Jim Mickle, Nick Damici and Don Johnson doing Q&A at the IFC Film Center at the Cold in July preview

.

The film is set in Texas and follows Michael C. Hall’s character through a series of horrifying and life changing events, beginning with the shooting of a burglar / intruder into his home and ending … nearly two hours later … with a major scene of carnage.

I take it from Director Mickle’s comments at the preview that given the relatively low budget, the team was ready to make some compromises on certain aspects of the shooting but I must say that this does not look like a low budget film.

The DP did a great job on the look and feel of the place, and the costumes and sets felt authentic to time and place, even though the movie was actually shot in Kingston, upstate  NY rather than Texas. You would not know it to look at the film.

Hall, Shepard and Johnson did an excellent job in their roles. Shepard plays an ex-con just out of prison and he nails the performance by being understated and yet prone to threats and violence. Hall was perfect as the “joe civilian” who is lured into a world far beyond his normal suburban life, and Johnson was wonderful as the colorful bounty hunter. Johnson added a lot of levity and light-touch moments in an overall dark themed film.

The primary issues I had with the movie were the plot inconsistencies, and there were several.

Most glaring, for me, was in the first portion of the film. We’re told someone that is shot and killed is not who the cops are saying it is and Hall and Shepard actually go dig up the body to check. Sure enough, we are told ‘nope, it isn’t the guy we were told.’

Hall becomes a bit obsessed about who is this guy in the grave? It starts nagging at him, so much so that he starts snooping around on his own to find out. This leads him into other predicaments (which is the point, of course.) However, who is in the grave is completely dropped as the movie transitions into the middle segment and we never find out.

I’m not a fan of luring an audience into something using a dead body, and being told it’s “really important” only to have it drop away into nothing, without further explanation.

But, don’t get me wrong, this movie is so well acted and well made that it’s fun to watch. I am NOT a fan of shoot-em-up films with lots of carnage, and yet I felt myself willingly going along for the ride … much like Michael C. Hall’s character.

I’d recommend giving this movie a chance. It’s got a lot to like, especially the wonderful performances by Hall, Shepard and Johnson.

 

Advertisements

Movie Review: Under the Skin is Underwhelming

Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer, starring Scarlett Johansson and written by Walter Campbell is the kind of movie you want to like, but can’t for many reasons.

The film opens with a highly abstract Kubrick-eque series of images that let the viewer know something is askew with reality from the start. It’s a kind of 2001 A Space Odyssey meets Aeon Flux meets I don’t know what.

Anyway, pretty soon we get to see Scarlett Johansson naked, while she undresses a corpse of a girl. Ms. J gets dressed in her clothes (hey, they fit!) What a way to go shopping…

Oh yeah, incidentally the whole film is shot in Scotland.

SPOILER ALERT… (don’t read beyond here if you don’t want spoilers)

Then her character (who has no name throughout the film) starts driving around in a van (not down by the river) looking to pick up guys. You think she is maybe trying to prostitute herself, but quickly realize she’s actually looking to seduce men into getting into her van so she can drag them off to a kill house.

All of the “killing” scenes are wierdly abstract. It shows her getting undressed, and them getting undressed. Yes, there are several scenes of full frontal male nudity and I will add the gentlemen in question are in various states of arousal which is, to say the least, not what you see in Hollywood.

In any case, the guys get nekked and then they walk toward her on this glassy black surface. Eventually they sink into the floor and disappear.

Kinda wierd, no?

Yeah.

Okay, well she does that a few times… and by the time it happens for the third time it’s really boring. The pacing of this movie is SLOOOOOOOOOW.

The couple sitting in front of me got up and left before the third guy “died,” and even I was sitting there thinking, when do we get to see the plot unfold?

Answer … the plot unfolds about 2 minutes before the end of this two hour debacle.

Rather than torture you the way the movie tortured me, I’ll cut to the chase. Mind you, this is literally the last 2-3 minutes of this film:

The character is an alien being from another planet. I guess the alien was seducing the guys to feed on them, maybe. (Who cares?)

In the very last scene the alien peels off Scarlett Johansson’s body and underneath is a shiny black skinned bald creature – that still somehow has Scarlett Johansson’s face. Then the alien gets doused in gasoline, is set on fire, runs into the woods, falls down, dies and burns up.

The last shot of the film is the black smoke from the body rising up into the sky. Ooooh, very moody.

And freaking annoying as hell.

Do not bother to see this film unless you are some guy who wants to see Scarlett Johansson naked, then in that case you can contribute to the paltry $1.1M box office this film is pulling in. Good luck with that…

Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a charming marvel. It’s a masterful combination of great acting, great dialogue with an absurd and humorous plot, and unbelievable attention to detail.

Production designer Adam Stockhausen is a miracle worker. Every moment in the film is so carefully designed, it’s beautiful to watch for that reason alone. Even with the sound off, I think the movie would be so visually arresting the viewing would create its own pleasure. (My favorite “sound” moment in the film is when there are two cable cars that stop on a wire, and the squeaking of the cars on the wire is in time to the soundtrack music in the background. It’s pure genius.)

Every moment we spend in the Grand Budapest, both in the “past” and in the “present” are delights, right down to the cracked plaster, orange curtains, pink-boxed pastries, and purple and red uniforms for the Grand Budapest staff.

In typical Wes Anderson style, there are tons of cameos from his regular buddies, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and a few small parts played by well known actors that are new to the Anderson pantheon: Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton as an ideosyncratic 80-something dowager, and F. Murray Abraham as the narrator who steals every scene he’s in with Jude Law.

Jeff Goldblum is also amusing as the lawyer overseeing the dowager’s last will. Other star turns are put in by Edward Norton as a police chief, Willem Dafoe as a psychopathic killer, and Adrian Brody as the evil son of the deceased dowager.

The star of the movie, though, is Ralph Fiennes as the divine Monsieur Gustave. He plays this role with just the right touch.

Without giving the film away (this will be a spoiler-free review) I can highly recommend this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching the amazing performances of such a huge and distinguished cast, as they romp all over these incredible gorgeous sets.

I saw the movie in New York City, and much to my dismay, the film is only playing in two theaters in the city right now. I don’t know why this movie is in such limited release. That baffles me.

But if you are a Wes Anderson fan (and who doesn’t love movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox?) you should rush out to see this movie before it’s gone.

Review: The Lego Movie

I haven’t seen too many movies in the past few months, and it’s because a lot of the movies that are released lately are crap.

One of the ways I try and avoid seeing crappy movies is by reading the reviews on RottenTomatoes.com. When movies are poorly rated by the critics (or top critics) usually with corroborating explanations of why, I’ll probably skip the film unless it’s something I really want to see even if it isn’t perfect.

The Lego Movie was given one of the highest RottenTomatoes scores I’ve seen in a long time. It had a critic rating of 97% “fresh” which is near perfection. Critics universally praised the film, said it was very smart and funny … and would have great cross-over appeal between kids and adults. That was enough to convince me to see the movie, yes, in 3D.

I was utterly disappointed in the film. There were some funny moments, mostly in the first third of the film, but then the whole premise of the movie wore thin on me. The idea is that legos are inter-changeable, but then there is one lego man Emmet, who is not (very Monty Python’s Life of Brian, incidentally).

Emmet is on a hero’s quest that is fast paced, and yet still boring. I guess kids will like how quickly the transformer-like-lego-action on the screen unfolds, but it just could not hold my interest. About halfway through the film I considered getting up to leave, but I stuck it out … although I think I nodded off for a few minutes after the halfway mark.

If you like the idea of a fluffy pop-culture romp across many different 3D lego landscapes of a town, a wild west scenario, a space adventure, blah blah blah… then you may enjoy the movie. Don’t expect the laugh-a-minute reviews to be accurate, they’re not. The movie has some amusing moments, but on the whole there was a lot of silent watching in the packed theater today.

Spoiler Alert: The real “bottom” of the movie, for me, was zooming out to see Will Ferrell, (the voice of President Business when we’re inside lego-land) turning into the real life father with the giant lego set in the basement as his own adult playground that his son has “intruded upon.” Emmet, the hero of someone trying to be unique, is the son and dad soon realizes his “mistake” of trying to Krazy Glue the different lego creations together permanently because it doesn’t allow the son to go wild with his imagination.

Then they hug and all is well.

Puke.

The End

A New Way of Looking at Sex: My Thoughts on Don Jon

I highly recommend the new film Don Jon, which marks the directorial debut of well known actor Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Levitt plays the lead character, Don Jon (with the obvious reference to Don Juan,) a devout Italian Catholic guy from New Jersey who is a gym rat, has dinner with his family every Sunday after church, and spends Saturday nights clubbing with his “boys” and finding a random woman to lure home to his pad to have sex.

Oh yeah, he also has a rabid addiction to internet pornography. This addiction is the central issue the character must deal with in the film and come to understand how it is affecting his relationships with women.

And while this sounds like it could be an episode of Jersey Shore, there is something more to this character that we come to understand toward the end of the film, about his vulnerability as a man.

Both of the primary women characters in the movie are played brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson as the “10” he meets in the club and who becomes his girlfriend; and Julianne Moore, a woman damaged by life’s circumstances who Don Jon meets in a class when he goes back to school. Tony Danza also gets a star turn as Jon’s father, and although Danza’s performance is spot on, the character is written as an “macho Italian old-fashioned NJ guy” sterotype.

What I liked about the film was its unflinching look at how a guy like Don Jon relies on pornography, despite the fact that he’s having regular sex with real women and how he explains (in voice overs) that he still believes the pornography is better than the women he is having sex with (since real life cannot compete with the perfection of a fantasy on a screen.)

And what Don Jon finds out, in the end, is that the new way of looking at sex is the old way of looking at sex: it means most when it’s with someone you care about. And while that may sound like a sappy hollywood ending, I assure you its not.

In the new world, sex is about caring, but it doesn’t come with the trappings of fairy tale weddings, babies and perfection… it comes through a deeper emotional understanding which means Jon’s giving up the one-sided nature of being a voyeur in his own life.

Film Review: Pina, a film by Wim Wenders

Pina is an art film by Wim Wenders dedicated to Pina Bausch, a German choreographer who has given the world some amazing avant garde dance … which is very hard to describe.

I’d like to share this clip from the soundtrack by talented musician Jun Miyake. It’s called Lilies of the Valley. It gives you a sense of how upbeat some of the music is, although many of the pieces were also dark and deeply emotional to watch.

This piece, from the Opening, I felt to be the strongest of the entire film. You immediately know, when you watch a piece like this you are going to be watching something extraordinary.

What you don’t see in this clip though, is how the dancers start the scene – by spreading dirt on the stage to dance on as their surface.

There is a lot of use of open air settings, using “props” like dirt or water, or other natural elements… leaves, grass, etc to convey something larger than just human beings interacting with one another, they are interacting with the entire world and its environment.

Here are some other arresting images and music from the film:

I have one criticism of this film though. First, Pina was presented in 3D and it was the concensus of me and my friend, along with the chatter of others in the audience when the film was over, that the 3D didn’t add enough to the presentation of the film to justify its use. When going to the art house for one movie costs $16 or $17 bucks in Manhattan, you know your audience is expecting you to wow them if you’re going to bother with 3D.

You’d think a clip like this would be enhanced by 3D, but I swear, what you see here is basically the same thing I saw in the theater:

Finally, I’m not a big dance afficianado, but I enjoyed this film. My friend, who loves dance, came out of the movie on a cloud, she really loved every minute of it. There were spots that dragged a bit for me, and because some of the dancing is deeply emotional, it’s quite difficult to sit through two hours of dancing with no plot and essentially no dialogue.

I would recommend going to see this film if you enjoy dance, especially contemporary avant garde dance, but be prepared to pay that extra bit for 3D glasses you don’t really need.