Not Fade Away

Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

A coming of age film set in ’60s New Jersey, heavily reliant upon a rock’n roll backdrop and focused on a young Springsteen wannabe, I expected this film to be influenced by, and reminiscent of, American Graffiti, Almost Famous and The Sopranos (it’s written by David Chase) with a terrific soundtrack (produced by Steven van Zandt from the E Street Band, the producer of the Underground Garage station on SiriusXM, and of course Silvio on The Sopranos). It did not live up to my expectations, although it kept my interest and had some realistic portrayals, led by the under-acting John Magaro as the drummer/singer/lonely loser and by Bella Heathcote as his beautiful muse (here:

who, when she first spoke, made me think she was raised in another country (she is Australian). James Gandolfini, as the boy’s blue collar dad, does his Tony Soprano at home portrayal to perfection (David Chase must love to script scenes where Gandolfini digs into a plate of food while talking). The music didn’t blow me away, and the boy and his buddies actually don’t seem obsessed with doing whatever it takes to be the next Bon Jovi, while they stumble into opportunities, both music-wise and relationship-wise. There’s no deep friendships that you think will be the next Clarence Clemens and Bruce. Maybe Springsteen’s dad was like this, but the main message seems to be that you won’t fade away if you keep at it. There’s a side story about Bella’s offbeat sister that surprisingly dead ends unhappily. So, it’s a decent movie, but didn’t inspire me like Cameron Crowe did in Almost Famous, or even other niche films like Garden State. If you want to see a current film that does this perfectly, go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

 

Django Unchained

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is a unique film: quintessential Tarantino with gushing blood, provocative speeches from compelling characters, tongue in cheek humor, homages to spaghetti westerns, and incredible scenes of in your face violence, combined with a revenge fantasy cum morality tale that delves into life during slavery that you won’t see portrayed in too many places in film today or ever. I cringed during the bloody scenes of the worst type of brutality, and my first instinct is to reject such tastelessness, but then I think am I seeing scenes that would have never happened, or was this the unpleasant reality that no one likes to think about happened right here in the US? The current movie, Lincoln, is focused on passing legislation that banned slavery, but it never shows the reality that slavery entails. Django Unchained shows it in a way I’ve never seen. We all know that families were broken up by auctions, but have we internalized the implications of how awful that was? We’ve heard that slaves were treated like chattel, worse than dogs, but seeing it depicted here is something again that I have rarely seen in popular culture. We’ve read about the Uncle Toms, the “house” n***s, the “field” n***s, the “master” who treats his surrogate father who effectively brought him up like a, well, a slave. But watch Samuel L. Jackson’s ultimate Uncle Tom, wielding power over the plantation, watch Leo Dicaprio as the plantation master toying with his “mandingo” wrestlers as he goads them to fight to the death, watch the brutal treatment of the slaves who try to run away…just unforgettable scenes and portrayals. Christoph Waltz, who was terrific in Inglorius Basterds as the Nazi Colonel, is superb here as the cold hearted, sly bounty hunter. Jamie Foxx is a revelation as the newly freed slave who partners with the bounty hunter to find then free his wife, from whom he was forcible separated. I don’t know if any Tarantino film can be considered a serious treatise of an issue such as slavery,  but if you want to watch an engrossing story which depicts the brutality of our not-too-distant past, check out this film.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Whether or not to see this movie should be a relatively easy decision.  If you like Tarantino movies you should go.  If you don’t you should stay away at all costs.

As Bill says it has all of the elements of a Tarantino film.  In some ways the violence exceeds some of his earlier films.  There is the usual violence for Tarantino – the over the top shoot outs, explosions, etc and then there’s the slavery inspired violence which unfortunately may not be over the top.

The dialogue is good although not quite as good as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs.

The movies is very entertaining and despite it’s over 2.5 hour length the movie flies by.  Tarantino gets great performances from Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, Jackson and others.  There are also a ton of people making cameos or in smaller roles – Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern, Franco Nero (from the original ‘Django’ movie), Russ (West Side Story!) and Amber Tamblyn, Tarantino (I love his final scene) and others.

While at times this took a serious look at slavery and how slaves were treated it was also very funny.  At times it reminded me of Blazing Saddles with it’s use of the ‘n’ word and with a scene with the KKK that could easily have been in that movie

For those seeing this movie in Austin you should see it at an Alamo Drafthouse and get their in time to see the pre-show.  It has some clips from some of the films that Tarantino is paying homage to and is also entertaining.  But I’m sure it would take a lot longer to go through all the movies he refers to and it would be interesting to know all that he refers to

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Lincoln

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

Daniel Day-Lewis (or is it Daniel-Day Lewis?) is a tour-de-force in this Oscar-worthy performance confirming with me he’s one our the top actors in films today. He is Lincoln, and while I was prepared for a slow first hour (thanks to Howard Stern’s assessment) I was never bored. Spielberg directed this with incredible attention to period detail that fascinated, from the way Lincoln traveled around Washington (a driver who carried a rifle was his only protection while his neighbors didn’t give him a second glance), to his office (constituents were given 1 on 1 audience to plead their case, no matter how minor), to the internal political wranglings, reminiscent of today’s situation where a newly re-elected president tries to pass major legislation (in 1865 it was the 13th amendment banning slavery) while the opposing party controls the House of Representatives. Tommie Lee Jones is terrific as the fervent single-issue abolitionist, as is Hal Holbrook as the slick power broker who must be catered to. While keeping the story suspenseful (we know the outcome!) and entertaining, we learn how politicking was done, how Abe conducted his business, how his “crazy” wife (excellent Sallie Field) pushed him to be more relentless in winning his political battle, how the House was more like British Parliament is today with people shouting down and insulting each other. Most importantly, you get a glimpse of how brutal the Civil War was, with the hand-to-hand bayonetting and fighting to the death, and what a battlefield looks like afterwards. It’s hard to believe that Americans fought each other like this only 4-5 generations ago. You see how the southern states wanted to negotiate peace as though they were a sovereign nation, while the North treated them like individual rebels from within the one nation. I recommend this for all audiences.

Bill C’s Review 4 out of 5

Bill has not left me much to say. What makes this movie so worthwhile is Day-Lewis’ performance, the realistic view of what the U.S. was like in the mid-1800s, and how our government worked so long ago.

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This Is 40

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

This is 40 is the latest directorial effort by Judd Apatow.  It is the story of married couple  Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as they deal with the current state of their lives as they turn 40. As in previous Apatow films, such as Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, Apatow tried to meld a raunchy comedy with a touching story that has heart. While this movie had many funny moments and some emotional heart, it was not as consistently funny or as moving as either of the previous movies and does not live up to those previous efforts.

Apatow pulls together a great cast including Melissa McCarthy (who was great in Bridesmaids too), Albert Brooks (another excellent performance coming off of last year’s performance in Drive), Jason Segal, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, and others. This was a family effort for Apatow as Mann is his wife and his two kids also starred and gave good performances in the movie.

While this is an ok movie, it did not live up to my expectations and is not one of Apatow’s best.

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

I agree it’s not consistently funny, but Apatow is not going for that. He’s got a serious mid-life couple’s drama at the center, and with some funny parts sprinkled throughout, you never forget the real-lifeness going on, from the bitter arguments, to the kids’ reactions, to their co-workers’ indifference, to their selfishness, as well as their lovingness. It’s real life, some of it embarassing, some of it not cool, and some of it to be admired in that they get through it and carry on. The fathers (Lithgow and Brooks) lend context and history to the characters. Leslie Mann has her best role here, as the glue that holds the family together, and enough attractiveness (personality and otherwise) to lend credibility to why Paul Rudd’s character loves her. The film is too long, and could have been edited down to eliminate some of the slow parts, but I don’t know what scenes I would want chopped. It’s hit and miss on some of the comic scenes (Mann berating a 12-year old boy is uncomfortable and not funny). Stay tuned for an outtake early in the credits where Melissa McCarthy riffs on her scene in the principal’s office, funniest of all. If you’re an Apatow fan, you need to see this. If you are married, you should see this, both to learn what to avoid and how you can persist through the tough parts. If you hope to be married in the future, you might want to wait till you’ve been hitched for a few years. Finally, if you ever thought Megan Fox had potential, you will see it realized here in a small but memorable part.

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Favorite Holiday Films

Below are some of my favorite holiday movies.  There are a ton of supposedly great holiday movies that I have not seen or saw so long ago that I didn’t really remember them and didn’t include them so please feel free to add comments on additional movies.  Except for It’s a Wonderful Life as my favorite these are not in any particular order.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Just a great movie.

Bad Santa – This is a wickedly funny dark comedy.  Billy Bob Thornton is great as an alcoholic, mean spirited, thieving department store Santa.  Tony Cox is great as his elf, partner in crime.  If you don’t like tons of cursing and meaning from your Santa skip this one.

Home Alone – Non stop laughs (and then heart)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – I called this entry ‘Holiday’ instead of ‘Christmas’ since this is more Thanksgiving and I wanted to include it.  Steve Martin and John Candy are great in the road movie with great heart.  The scene with them in bed together is a classic.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol – A favorite from my childhood

Die Hard – This is really a Christmas movie!  I recently saw this at a live ‘Doug Benson Interruption’ at the Alamo where he and others made jokes during a screening

Elf  – Will Ferrell at his best.

Trading Places – Hard to believe that Eddie Murphy and Jaime Lee Curtis were making movies 30 years ago!

The Nightmare Before Christmas – Tim Burton at his best

Babes in Toyland – the Laurel and Hardy version.  I remember as a little kid this used to scare the crap out of me when I’d see it on TV.

 

 

Anna Karenina

Bill C’s Review – 2 out of 5

Anna Karenina is the third teaming of director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley. I liked Atonement, the one earlier collaboration I saw, and his directing of Hanna. His Anna Karenina was a very stylized adaptation of the Tolstoy novel. It’s the type of thing you’ll either love or hate. In my case (as  I was told by Janis afterward), I laughed or snickered at inappropriate times due to the directorial choices. I guess that means I am in the hate category. Despite this, I am sure that this film will win all sorts of awards for things I am not capable of judging, like cinematography, musical score, costumes, and art direction. If they have an award for hair styling, they might win an award for that, as I could tell how depressed Knightley’s character was supposed to be by how bad her hair looked.

I thought Knightley and Jude Law were good. I was not as impressed with Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played an impassionate Vronsky.

A lot of people will love this movie. I just happen to not be one of them.

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Hitchcock

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Hitchcock tells the story of great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock during the making of Psycho and his relationship with his wife Alma Reville during that time.

Alma was a great filmmaker in her own right who subjugated her career to Hitchcock’s.  Helen Mirren is excellent as Alma. Initially she plays the neglected, nagging  wife trying (and failing) to help Hitchcock keep his weight down, but eventually she helps to save the day by re-writing key sequences and helping to edit the final product. The movie-making aspects and Hitchcock’s dealings with the studio are interesting, as Psycho represented a departure and a crossroads in his career.

I had mixed emotions on Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock. His performance seemed to be a caricature of the Hitchcock from his TV show and his cameos in the movies. I think Hopkins almost smiled once in the movie. Hopefully Hitchcock was more than just his caricature.

The director also made some interesting choices in starting and ending the film as a Hitchcock TV episode. He also had some scenes with Hitchcock and the real life character that inspired the  Norman Bates character to show Hitchcock’s psychological state of mind during this time.  I don’t think these choices really added to the movie.

Hitchcock was ok, but isn’t a movie that will stick with me for a long time.

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Killing Them Softly

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

I had mixed emotions about this movie. Brad Pitt stars as a hit man sent to find the folks who hit a mob-backed poker game and restore confidence so the games can be resumed. Pitt gives a fine performance as a no-nonsense enforcer who clearly sees what must be done to restore order. While he’ll willingly kill if needed, he likes to do so as efficiently as possible without causing the victims any unnecessary angst. His superiors (as represented by the always excellent, always understated Richard Jenkins) refuse to see things so clearly and make things more difficult than they need to be.

For the most part, I liked the movie as a character study of Pitt out to do his job and I found the plot fairly interesting. The point of the movie is to show the parallels between how the mob world and business/political worlds work. The movie takes place during financial meltdown and the presidential campaign in 2008. At first it’s interesting how they intersperse the movie plot with some of the Obama speeches, but they do a ton of this and, if you haven’t figured it out by the end of the movie, they let Brad Pitt give a speech to make sure you get it.

I thought they could have toned down one very violent scene. It’s funny–I can watch a Tarantino movie with hundreds of people getting killed and losing limbs without it bothering me, but this one did troubled me due to its realism and focus on a single person.

Overall I liked this film, but this is a luke-warm recommendation.

Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

I agree with Bill’s lukewarm review. I found it watchable, but the tenuous link to 2008 politics and greed in greater society was a big stretch and not insightful or compelling at all. Yes, people are greedy, but I can’t relate to these hit men (as thoughtful as Brad’s character is, when he kills them so quickly they don’t feel any pain) or small-time idiot thiefs. I kept waiting for the point, for some underlying reason to care about any of these characters. I found James Gandolfini’s wheezy fat hit man for hire character who’s seen better days to be the most fun to watch, but he’s also the most despicable character in the film. Bill references Tarantino, whoI think was probably an inspiration for the film makers here, but it’s missing the excitement and style, leaving mainly the graphic violence and the characters spouting dialogue that sounds like it should be interesting.

If you want to see greed, big time money up for grabs, suspense about a dead body, and a characters you care about, spend your 2 hours or so seeing Arbitrage with Richard Gere, much better than this.

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