STILL ALICE (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"They have a nice life, you know, really beautiful lives."
- Alice talking about the beautiful, yet, short lifespan of butterflies
Alice's life really is that of a butterfly. She's experience much professional success, has an equally successful husband, three wonderful children and home full of warm happiness. The moment she learns of the diagnosis, her life becomes that of a butterfly - full of much beauty but cut short. The comparison of the butterfly somehow sweetens the adversity Alice is faced with - but only for a moment. Julianne Moore's performance forces you to remember that regardless of Alice having a life any one would be proud to have lived, it is still being cut short when she's not ready to let go.
Devastating, authentic, emotional, moving, fear
Convincing, sensitive, difficult subject, vulnerable, Julianne Moore’s performance and Kristen Stewart’s acting (whaaa?!)
Uneven, unnecessary family plot lines, generally boring, dislikeable family, average
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Julianne Moore plays Alice, a 50-year-old established, respected, intelligent linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Where most movies may focus on the family and friends who are losing their loved one to a hazy world of fading recognition, the film focuses on Alice’s point of view and how she copes with her diagnosis. It makes for many difficult moments and scenes that cannot be viewed without an already tear soaked tissue close-by. Alec Baldwin plays her equally respected and successful husband, and Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart play their three children.
BIG EYES (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"So, who is the artist?"
- a woman inquiring about the Big Eyes artist.
And with these five words, Big Eyes reveals itself as a movie about two different artists: one that dabbles in acrylics while the other dabbles in deception. Big Eyes is layered in its story-telling, beginning with hopefulness, trust, deception, abuse, horror and relief. Amy Adams (as Margaret Keane) and Christoph Waltz (as Walter Keane) handle the delivery of these complex emotions like the professionals they are with a cherry on top. The strength of Margaret Keane is one of beauty, especially when that strength is finally acknowledged and rewarded. The feminist layer to this movie, a product of the time period, was an unexpected but pleasant surprise to the film’s depth. The duration of the movie is spent realizing we’re watching Margaret and her artistic talent only to realize that Walter is just as artistic, albeit in a very different way.
Sad, Unbelievable, Manipulative, Beautiful, Inspiring, Deception, Feminism
Beautiful acting by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams
Authentic film production value
Odd tonal change throughout movie
Uneven movie pace
Felt lengthy at times
Lack of Tim Burton touches
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
I remember Big Eyes paintings when I was a child. After watching the film, I realize now they were the mass-produced versions of the originals as posters, postcards, t-shirts, etc. However, before we delve in, can we please discuss how Amy Adams never ages? She’s got the same anti-aging genes as Pharrell and Paul Rudd. Am I right? She’s 40-years-old and looks fucking amazing! She radiates innocence and dangerous flirtation at the same time. The complexity of achieving this baffles me. Okay. Just had to get that off my chest. Let’s move on.
Big Eyes follows the story of Margaret Keane and her paintings of children with eyes exaggerated in size. She explains that for a short while as a young child, she was deaf and relied on the facial expressions and eyes of those she was talking with to completely understand them. Eyes are important to her and thus, she enlarges them in all her paintings. Enter Walter. He’s an artist, charming as hell, and wants to take care of Margaret. Soon after they meet, they become husband and wife. Walter, realizing Margaret has a genuine talent in painting, offers to sell her paintings and are a success very quickly, making large sums of money. The caveat, however, is that Margaret must relinquish public ownership of the artwork because “nobody wants to buy lady art,” according to Walter. Giving in to her husband, she allows him to take credit for her paintings for over a decade.
FORCE MAJEURE (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Tomas say something you’re freaking me out.”
– Tomas' wife, Ebba
Tomas messed up, he messed up something fierce. In the beginning of the movie Tomas put himself before his wife and children during a remarkable cascading avalanche by running away only thinking of his egotism. Once this happens, Ebba is fractured with his lack of heroism, in particular for his family, and she, for the duration of the movie, doesn’t get an explanation, or rationality as to why Tomas would flagrantly leave like he did, when stereotypically, in times of trouble, the man – the father, inherently protects those he holds dear. Not the subliminally effeminate Tomas, though: he ran as if it was murder she wrote and that avalanche was Angela Lansbury. Once Ebba decides to confront him and put her snowboot up his delicate ass, she still doesn’t receive the answer to the question she is dying to unlock. Tomas, shamed, can’t muster up that courage to answer her terse question, sitting on the couch isolated from her without any remorse for reconciliation that smells of anything less than an authentic attempt Ebba will wait for but never receive. Does Tomas not say anything because he can’t find the words? Does he choose not to say anything? Or does he know deep down inside what he did is pathetic, but because his marriage to the frazzled Ebba is at the point of no return, it’s a moot ridden situation? Tomas, doesn’t know, Ebba doesn’t know and neither do we, but that doesn’t take out the fun of trying to figure out this trivial man, in this non-trivial “what would you do?” scenario. It’s fairly clear how egregiously frustrating his actions are to everyone that encounter him, seeking answers from a man that is seeking them for himself.
Icy, quirky, tense, peculiar, vapid, passive aggressive, sly, unassumingly brilliant, suffocating
Great usage of film space
Subtle tension and mood
Attractive framed scenes/composition
Amusing study of passive aggression among relationships
Smart writing delivered by philosophical dialog
A few nonsensical plot points/scenes
Decent, not great ending
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
This wickedly funny and precisely observed psychodrama tells the story of a model Swedish family - handsome businessman Tomas, his willowy wife, Ebba, and their two blond, pre-teen children - on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular but, during lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche turns everything upside down. With panicked diners fleeing in all directions, Ebba calls out for her husband as she tries to protect their children. Tomas, however, makes a decision that will shake the family's world to its core. Although the anticipated disaster fails to occur, his marriage now hangs in the balance as he struggles to reclaim his role as family patriarch.
THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Only now do I finally remember why I came here."
- Princess Kaguya
I’m not going to start off this review and lie to you by saying there were moments in which this movie didn’t test my patience with its overly self imposed reflection. All the bells and whistles that you normally find in a Studio Ghibli film, and to a greater extent by Isao Takahata, were in full force, but I kept finding myself checking my watch, timing its running length and wondering why is this movie, beyond its “bona fide” impactful style, allowing its narrative pretentions to stymie the film from ascending to the very atmosphere of thematic gratification that Princess Kaguya herself descended down from the beginning of the film? I somewhat took for granted what this movie offered in a reticent way that would typically make me discard a movie of this nature if it weren’t an art house Japanese animation. However, the more I watched, the more I bypassed it’s obvious visual pleasure and succumbed to the naturalistic presentation of folktale itself and how it was told - in which by the end I too, like the Princess, remembered why I came to see this movie, just as she remembers why she descended down on earth: for me it’s because Takahata has a way of not penetrating your consciousness in a direct manner, but like the glowing bamboo and the princess from it, his touch subtly affects you without you knowing it, until it’s over and that is when the movie proves its worth. The Princess or also known as “Little Bamboo” is conflicted between two worlds in which she is trying to prove to herself just who she is and what she ultimately wants. She traverses the film emotionally, accelerating in age and love in the most grandiose, personal, and exertive way forcing the movie to not only prove its worth to me, but also trying to prove itself in keeping its “Little Bamboo” in the world it created for her. The fixed reality though is that this movie has nothing to prove to either of us, it only needed to wait until we both came around to realize what we knew all along – the gentle force of its delivery is held in contempt by the very promise of our unrealized but preexisting loyalty.
Sweeping, charming, magical, reflective, celebratory, warm, chasten, contemplative
Softness and simplicity in animation style
Beautifully captures fairy tale soul
Mostly enjoyable characters
Excellent voice acting from James Caan
Lack of energy at times in pacing
Movie’s running length was too long
Narrative at times was tangential
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Legendary Studio Ghibli cofounder Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko) revisits Japan's most famous folktale in this gorgeous, hand-drawn masterwork, decades in the making. Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter (James Caan) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen), a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady (Chloë Grace Moretz). The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her - but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime. From the studio that brought you Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and The Wind Rises comes a powerful and sweeping epic that redefines the limits of animated storytelling and marks a triumphant highpoint within an extraordinary career in filmmaking for director Isao Takahata.
THE BABADOOK (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Stop calling him boy, his name is Samuel”
The boy, Samuel, is 6-years-old, and is suppressive of his mother’s energy willfully bulldozing an incorrigible co-dependency that tears down Amelia’s last shred of understandable tolerance and fading maternal love as she protects her son to the school board. Samuel, who is plagued by “The Babadook” a scary, possible figment of his imagination “boogie man” cloaked with Tim Burton’s fashion sense, has made Samuel a problem child to where Amelia can no longer keep him in school. He is so obstructive, that the administrators can’t even bring themselves to call him by his name, only referring him as “the boy” to which Amelia, drowning in her lament and frustration of Samuel, still defiantly defends her son, as if it’s a last resort, and not out of genuine motherly pride. There is love for the boy, but its withering, sucking the life out of the pupils of her bright eyes with little margin for error because Amelia is running out of options in trying to control her son’s fear of the so called Babadook. Immediately you feel her burden, as she is losing her sanity, failing to realize it’s only going to get worse, because deep down inside she will soon find out that “the boy” is the least of her problems.
Cagey, irritable, burdened, heartfelt, tight, suppressing,
lurking, shrouded, sparse
Kent’s strong, smooth direction
Polished cinematography for independent film
Pitch perfect pacing
Multifaceted horror storytelling presentation
Layered dramatic visuals
Overly relied on built in horror movie troupes
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her out of control 6 year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel's dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called 'The Babadook' turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he's been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control and he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son's behavior, is forced to medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her about may be real.
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"To die you have to be alive first."
– Banderas' Jacq Vaucan to robot
Antonio Banderas, who has been off the movie screen radar for several years, casts the “hand to god” line as he is being painfully dragged against his will by a robot in the middle of a dry, uninhabitable desert, showcasing his latin star power in a low budget science fiction film that desperately depends on it. His character, which is in charge of investigating offlined protocol robots, is forced to leave his city, his metropolis, his home, in the hopes of finding the leader robot that doesn’t prescribe to society’s restrictions on free will or what the robot thinks that is and how it applies to its kind. Masking in the dark, our rogue robot liberator is leading all other service robots to find it in order to break away to create a utopia in a dystopic world – as its utopia isn’t the dirt, boards, rocks, or the barriers of human hatred the robot shelters himself away from, as much as the ideology it’s exodus is harkened by. Banderas’ character, Jacq Vaucan is trapped under the nomadic pale faced robots, that are making their way towards an unforgivable destination (which didn’t originally include Vaucan) but since he doesn’t have much of a crippled choice, he is now a part of this chromed out, metallic Donner Party. Unable to sustain refuge, badly in need of water, and laying heavily restless on a stretcher, Banderas is ironically in a life or death situation with the very robots he believes will kill him as they consider what the application of life is to them and their right to be defined by it. The anonymous service robot that is the focus of Banderas’ ire, exemplifies the movie’s unspoken attitude that him and his brethren are tired of "picking up society's check” when it comes to being utilized as worn out corroded after thoughts, corporate issued drones, and life sized metallic swiffer mops cleaning up dystopic future’s “hard to reach areas.” The movie, like all other science fiction films, treat its robots in an arena of endless disposable indentured servitude for the very human’s life it’s programmed to protect. The film’s reality overstates this: it marks heightened actuality that a definable class system is in place, with a tension between the “humans” (masters) and the “robots” (slaves) – property versus identity, It wants to initially treat its robots as nothing but an inanimate felt machine that animates its given orders. However, the robots have other ideas, and you can’t blame them - only blame how they were under-explored by the director. They won’t hurt you, they protect you, but it doesn’t sound as gracious as one might think. Banderas feels trapped, powerless, unable to muster resistance towards a destination that is out of his control and death as he explains to the semi-intelligent robot, looks like a great consolation prize to the one person who knows its debt by knowing the value of life itself.
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"He is so simple that when you scratch the surface, there is just… more surface."
- Kat, in describing her boyfriend, and yet, the movie, as well.
White Bird in a Blizzard sells itself as a sexual awakening story for main character, Kat Conner, just as her mother disappears without a trace. The juxtaposition of these two events lends some intrigue but on the other hand, it’s also a unique combination that could fail miserably, even under the most artistic of treatments. My hope was to see these elements handled with a refreshing perspective on events that have been talked about time and time again in film. Perhaps the book does it more successfully but Araki’s direction of it in film leaves much to be desired.
Below average, confusing, boring, tired approach
Dream sequences’ artistic nature
Nudity for no real reason (oogling does not count)
Poor accuracy of character’s “wildness”
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Kat Conner (Shailene Woodley) is 17-years-old when her mother goes missing. This event coincides with the beginning of her sexual awakening as a budding young adult and explores this chapter in her young life with boyfriend, Phil. Kat’s mother, Eve (Eva Green), is portrayed as despondent and at times, cruel, a product of the uneventful life she’s led ever since marrying her husband, Brock (Christopher Meloni). A former wild child herself, Eve demonstrates bizarre attention-seeking behavior, directly related to her losing her youthfulness and intrigue while Kat is blossoming into her own.
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“I will be 15 soon."
Throughout the movie, our main character – William, is a stranger in a strange land called Copenhagen; it’s in his blood, but not in his heart as he is from America. He is there to find his grandfather as a last dying wish of his father’s in handing over some personal effects that are representational of three generations of a repeated strained paternal upbringing. He doesn’t know where to begin to search. He arrives with his a best friend, whom falls head over heels for a saucy British woman, leaving William alone to navigate the beautiful, but misunderstood city with his quasi-v.i.p. club brashness. Finally, Effy comes into the picture, helping William, being his charming tour guide, and emotional cheerleader as William is trying to search out his lineage. Throughout the trip – William’s douchey act of “cool as ice” personality starts to thaw once Effy’s irritability and babyfaced “breath of fresh air-ability” grabs him, with both arms adolescently not letting go. And he hates himself for it, for she is younger than our slicked up man-child of a protagonist, but much older in ways he is not, nor could be ever without her.
Sweetly reckless, haunting, mesmerizing, terse, lovelorn, possessive, grounded, rewarding, sarcastic
Wonderful color template of the city
The palpable chemistry between the leads (Gethin Anthony and Federikke Dahl Hansen)
Mystery/journey of the plot
Excellent characterizations of british actors playing American
Sensational lead performance of newcomer Federikke Dahl Hansen
Pacing was pushed aggressively in the beginning
At times stilted amateurish acting
Direction at times could use some more deft skill
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
After weeks of traveling through Europe, the immature William (Gethin Anthony, Game of Thrones) finds himself at a crossroads in Copenhagen. Not just another beautiful European city, Copenhagen is also the birthplace of his father. When William meets pretty local girl Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen), they set off on an adventure to find his grandfather. Effy's mix of youthful exuberance and wisdom challenges William like no woman ever has. As the attraction builds and William finds himself truly connecting with someone for the first time in his life, he comes to this realization: that Effy is half is age.
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"I got to own it. I got to be fucking cocky."
– Dan Harmon to the camera prior to going on stage to his show Harmontown.
Dan Harmon, who is miraculously a troublefuck and self presented genius, tries to talk himself up in a brazen, belligerent showman manner in order to give his cult fans a memorable podcast show that given night in that given city. He sincerely looks into the camera with his worn out gaze, exhausted at the possibility that he has to falsely gas up his confidence in a bid to carry himself as the comedic/writing/showrunning genius everybody presumes he is. Throughout the film he is self-stricken with a certain “white nerds” burden of always having to deliver the goods to his fans, while struggling to keep his mind from unspooling out of his nose by lingering self doubt. Harmon who was let go from his brainchild sitcom ‘Community' by NBC, became lost in the proverbial barbeque sauce stain on his shirt, found himself going on a town to town tour all while doing his Harmontown podcast, and airing out “Costanza” like grievances as if every day was Festivus. Harmon is selling this misunderstood, acidic, eremitic nerd “chosen one” affliction, where he appear at times in not wanting to carry the encumbrance of all the nerds that look up to him emblematically like a level 7 titanic paladin broad sword casted on his back; however he also doesn’t want anyone else to take on that responsibility either, because like all nerds, geeks or dweebs, Harmon wants to desperately belong and with that desperately please.
Disheveled, schlubby, caustic, sappy, selfless, heart-driven, pedestrian, manic, contrived
Harmon’s direct interaction and natural ability in front the camera
His podcast co-star, Spencer, and his story
Harmon, at times, shows real empathy that drives the purpose of the narrative
Manipulation of movie’s message is sickening with insincerity
Harmon aims for a too self pleasing tone
Movie is not telling a story as much as it’s a commercial for the podcast
Dark moments seemed contrived and forced
Documentary wanted to come across raw, unfiltered, but was ultimately whiny and ungrateful
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
A direct, unabashed disgruntled documentary on the comedy Community’s creator and show-runner Dan Harmon, and what makes him creatively tick. After being fired from his signature creation, Harmon hits the road with his popular podcast and performs live for his cult-like fan base across the country. Known for his wit, cynicism, and disarming vulnerability, his podcast Harmontown finds Dan Harmon bathed in the adoration of his fans as he confronts his personal demons and tries to breathlessly come out on the other side untethered by the very genius that strangles him.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
The movie is about a self created platform for Harmon to bellow out his nerd Braveheart war anthem about his corporate studio grievances and past mainstream failures, while still trying to find his imprint in an industry that mostly doesn’t know what to do with him. Dan Harmon was the creator of a half hour sitcom on NBC called Community that focused on several underdog students at a community college that band together week after week to uplift themselves while assigned to the meta neurosis of the man that created its world (Harmon), a self anointed underdog. After being seen by NBC’s Executive brass as “difficult” to work with, Harmon was canned by season 4 from his own creation, in which Community experienced a “Lindsay Lohanian” drastic creative nose dive. With nothing to do or people to slovenly piss off, Harmon decided to start out with a podcast that gave him a platform to rail against his self-perceived network injustices off his doughy chest, plus immediately stay in direct contact to the very subculture congregation that worships him. There are eerie parallels to 2011 Conan O’Brien’s “Can’t stop" tour that is inadvertently plagiaristic – O’Brien took a hiatus after being fired by the same tone deaf corporate deathwatch (NBC) due to O’Brien being too irreverent, and not the perfect toaster salesman charlatan compared to Jay Leno. Harmontown mirrors, unwittingly, the same kind of presentation and story, but without him being the subject nor delivers the focus to push through his next lazy unmotivated move nor with any backbone. Harmon wants a job, just not necessarily the one networks dangle over him. In this movie he is not so much the mayor of Harmontown as much as he is the town’s whino, sleeping on a park bench, using his old failed news clippings as a slip cover. Of course this comes across harsh, but that is how Harmon wants you to see him. He doesn’t want you to love him unless he allows you to, by which he keeps control of his image of a man cursed by his talent, when really it’s his insecurities.
One of the more natural takes was to study Harmon’s character through his show, where you see him perform and put on “an act” to his audience, but keep the real façade with the viewer. On stage, he uses his pig pen deprecation as a force for entertainment, but the viewer is savvy in knowing it’s just for self-inflicted shits and Pagliacci like sad giggles. Up close and personal, we are simultaneously rewarded by watching Harmon obscenely obsess over each show in every town leading up to the opening minute, at which point Harmon takes over and the podcast is abrasively transformed into a tele-evangelized experience for the comic con sect. Harmon plays the role of our disheveled Joel Osteen. Harmontown is his platform, and its fans are his congregation. Harmon always seems, on the surface at least, to faintly acknowledge the fans true “gee whiz” graciousness, as not to let someone know he is affected. There is a stray puppy quality to him where no matter what he attains in his career he is always looking for acceptance.
The movie presentation is routine and pasty white pedestrian. Editing in the beginning sloppily fits in cursory snippets of his early career without delving into it with much of an investment – as if he remembers, but doesn’t want to “talk about it." There is an undercurrent tone handed to us, with a sorry mix of self detonated montage of failures, into current scenes of him still looking for the next big thing, but not having the interest to find out if it’s truly out there. Just like his stories in Community, he is always looking for ways to push people away, or forcibly convince someone that his “genius” is the very debate of blessings vs. curse, but really – it touches of mawkish insincerity as if Harmon wants us to believe it, even though he is not sure he does. It’s glaringly apparent about midway through that he wants to push the viewer away with a fickle recklessness, coming back only when he’s ready with nails and hammers in hopes of repairing the narrative destruction just in time to feel pleased with himself for looking out for the voiceless nerd. Sorry, Harmon, it’s too little and all too late. The movie for the most part, is done with a sniveling darkness, that at times spills over turbulently on stage thereby train-wrecking whatever good will the movie tries to stabilize between its good nature intensity, and Harmon’s brittle, fragile ego. There are methods to his madness in a very young Frankenstein kind of way, hodgepodging his comedy and dark bravura onto anyone within ear shot. It’s quite apparent that he holds a magnetic resonance over his fan base, with a Mussolini dictatorial smirk, like a comedic communist in cargo shorts kind of way. But that pomposity falls on deaf ears and is unseen by nerd blindness. He is the messiah to a generation that doesn’t need to be saved.
Harmontown’s main theme throughout the documentary is that the Super Nintendo nerd subculture is becoming mainstream pop culture with an ever gaining pop comic velocity. It’s that burgeoning rocket fuel of a movement that gives Harmon permission to even have a voice to begin with. It’s the schlepped out loser tone of voice that makes you sick, with cloying messages about how nerds are being held down and he, their ever fighting Joan of Arc, ready to be burned at the mainstream stake for their collective sycophancy. Harmon has to realize, that no one is asking him to roll his own dungeon master dice and fall on his imaginary dragoon spear. He carries his own self infliction into the story that frankly we could do without for the betterment of the viewing experience. I’m not interested in him beating himself up while also tearing down everything around him for the pursuit of his artistic goals. The true narrative voice this movie needed, is how Harmon persevered, wrote shows, performed comedy and show ran all on his own terms – that is the underdog story that we want. That is the story that needed to be told – but it went missing like Harmon’s self confidence. There were true results in the film from its testimonials, from its fans, and at times from Harmon himself, but more often than not it would come across too “stagey” to even get the melodramatic moments correct. The film, to its detriment, continuously struggled to find the line between self loathing and cloying: developing a recipe for a sensitive sullen Molotov cocktail.
Harmon does have moments of genuine altruism, which many come in the form of the discovery of his fellow podcaster Spencer. Spencer’s role in Harmontown is to administer the board game “Dungeons and Dragons” as the omnipotent dungeon master, to such great results that he invariably became a permanent co-host for Harmontown. With that, Spencer has developed a fan base, and is clearly a little brother of sorts for Harmon, as Harmon actually wants to put him under a padawan like mentoring program (even though Yoda may argue he is too old for the Jedi ways). It’s reiterated throughout the film, that Spencer is self admittedly lucky for being on the receiving end of his once in a lifetime opportunity to go from his mother’s basement to Harmon’s penthouse. The dynamic screams a little Jay and Silent Bob, but it’s a real relationship, in which Harmon proudly bequeaths onto the young dragon master. No matter what heartstrings this movie aims to entice or manipulate, there is a complexity, haunting Harmon that hazily smacks off in a lovable turn the other cheek kind of way. This is how he wants to be seen with the tug of war of emotional and creative animosity that confounds Harmon’s voice towards borderline silliness and trite. This movie is crippled with its hackneyed “the sun will come out tomorrow” deliveries that stalemate on underwhelming autopilot.
One of the lesser inspired scenes, is during a stop in Nashville, Harmon has too much to drink during a live taping. Some hillbilly gives him his jar of moonshine, and Harmon, with a great delight and forceful thirst, laps it up to the point of hysterical oblivion. The next day, he listens to the post production playback, and from his unkempt point of view is fully distraught over the whole incoherence of the previous night’s performance. He decides, that in order to construct his Mea Culpa, and make it about himself, without calling attention to it, the next night's participants get to air their personal grievances in front of the audience to bring some sort of cleansing that would make an A.A. meeting look like parent/teacher night. It’s insulting to watch in the most unabashed hacky way possible. He wants the scene to come off like he is making amends, but he fails to realize he is cheating the viewer who are there to focus on him and not the problem of his fans. The scene crystallizes the many selfish missteps that hamper Harmontown from being a good ride into his mad scientist genius brain, instead choosing to focus on the podcast as a wobbly crutch, in his search for the eternal entertainment industry pat on the back to replace current “kick me” sign.
As you can see its Harmon that gets in his own way again. It comes across as self diluted stinky cologne of washed up doubt that he wears in to gain your empathy. It's over-inflated heart meets wrinkled up, emotionally frayed sleeve. He proclaims that he is not an improviser – but that is not the issue with Harmon, from a pure comedic standpoint – he wants to be Robin Williams but isn't. There is no real torment with Harmon except the one he puts his closest company in. He is making mountains out of neurotic molehills. He is walking into a crowd that is there to see him, playing with house money, but is insistent to have this challengeable, hypnotic show, that will get the better of him, until he has to tap into some reservoir of semi-genius to save himself in giving the people what and who they came to see.
As far as documentaries go, this one had very little to say in terms of a fascinating character study or a story with real adversity. Harmon is really not that fascinating of a person, but does have talent: just not the level of talent he thinks he should be or tries to sell himself to be, which is the very damaged, grief stricken writer, redeemable no matter how much of an asshole he wants you to view him as. Like other documentaries I have reviewed, Harmontown doesn’t have the focus or professional perseverance of Conan O’Brien’s Can’t Stop nor the witty self assurance of George Takei in To be Takei. Harmon takes pleasure on being the kid; if he can’t play the game by his own rules, he will take his ball and go home pouting which is fine, because he, like his talent, and the metaphorical ball, is a dime a dozen. Industry creatives are willing to take a chance on the next Harmon minus the hurt locker self-detonating bomb bullshit that comes with a person like him. He will never have to fear his self determination because he always wants to be the last person picked since he is most comfortable living down to expectations than living up to them. Like a rural, desolate town, without any life or charm, on the landscape of the comedic interstate, you too will drive right past Harmontown without looking back in the rearview mirror, exactly where this documentary belongs.
2 out of 4
THE ZERO THEOREM (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Waiting for the call. What other reason is there to pick up the phone?”
– Christoph Watlz as the main character Qohen Leth
Frankly, there isn't! With the films’ technology and its candid telescopic inhuman to human interaction, there is no other reason to pick up that ominous telephone. Qohen Leth, sits patiently, hoping to finally get the phone call of a lifetime. Its very purpose is for Qohen to find out what the meaning of life is, because obviously, one finds out through a long distance astrological phone call from the creator himself. On a broader context, the above line may be delivered by Waltz, but is sublimated by Terry Gilliam’s voice denouncing the declining, interpersonal physical interaction, leading to a decaying of social equity amongst people. This is forcing Qohen, to overcome his awkwardness and interact with other people face to face instead of a grandfathered telephone amindst a new born text message world. What’s important isn’t the call itself - it’s the simple fact that Qohen wants to be interrupted from his theological meandering to even listen for the possible allegorical message on the other line for the very answer he is awaiting but will never receive.
Peculiar, delirious, dynamic, odd, warm, nonsensical, elevated, paranoid, gaudy
Strong Orwellian overarching theme
Unique visual production
Commentary/parody of decaying human interaction in the future
Demonstration of social vapidity
Uplifting performance by Melanie Thierry
Muddled presentation and plot
Incongruous set design
Not my favorite Christoph Waltz’ performance
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Terry Gilliam’s (Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) madcap science fiction epic, The Zero Theorem, stars two-time Academy Award-winner, Christoph Waltz, as Qohen Leth, an eccentric and reclusive computer genius plagued with existential angst. Living in isolation in a burnt-out church, Qohen is obsessively working on a mysterious project personally delegated to him by Management (Matt Damon), aimed at discovering the meaning of life - or complete lack of one - once and for all.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
The film is a de-facto, but not self-admitted last part of Gilliam’s “Orwellian Trilogy” starting with the fanciful Brazil, then scattershot 12 Monkeys, and now with this his latest, The Zero Theorem. Gilliam stated that initially, it was not his plan to purposefully create this movie in an obvious thematic touch as Brazil, due to the length of time the aforementioned movie was released (1984). He admitted, however, that he see the definite common presentation to where the “put upon trilogy label is befitting.” This movie holds true to its sold intent. Christoph Waltz plays the main character Qohen, who is basically trying to find the meaning of life, while mucked down in abhorrence with the world around him and to a greater extent, the theoretical world of his own existence.
The movie is a combination of a simple plot driven story and studious character development intertwined with Gilliam’s theoretical ambitions towards delivering a thought provoking small picture. Waltz plays Qohen as a man who refers to himself as two people. When responding, he say “we” or “us” and does so within a cyber-punk Forrest Gump manner. This is done because Qohen is a double-sided, gauche coin. He is everything and also nothing. He is our main character, but a drone. We examine him as he is everything, leading the audience into the film’s reality, but also anonymous in an individualistic taxpaying nobody kind of way. When you are first introduced to him, he is sitting naked, on a futuristic stool laser focused on the computer monitor in front of him. He is crunching numbers and wailing on buttons that would give a sane person carpel tunnel in the brain. There is a rhyme and reason to this action but doesn't lend itself to any coherence. He is a gerbil on a treadmill - movement is present with him; he is just not going anywhere. There is something of an exhaustive connectivity in trying to examine him, but it comes at a pass, since this is a two-time academy award winner we are viewing after all, even though he looks like a bootleg Lex Luthor with kryptonite for a personality.
Gilliam’s world is shown at wonderful, high camera angles braced in gaudy inclusiveness. In lesser hands, this is an exploitation production, but in Gilliam’s, it’s visual corny refinement. The streets and buildings look like a happy meal with Boy George face paint for the prize. It’s clown makeup mixed with Blade Runner. Gilliam layers movement throughout the film. Like Qohen’s computer driven mind, there is an embodiment of movement overarching the film. If the characters are sitting down, the screen moves between the characters which heighten their personalities to pop with dexterity. Even when Waltz is scurrying from one frame to the next, his eyes roam in active choreographed unison like temporal ping pong balls. From the opening shot, Gilliam doesn’t need to explain his world. If you are familiar with his work, then this will feel normal – if you’re not – he says too bad! What you see is what you have to accept. Nothing visually makes sense, but there is something familiar with the inhabitants and the watchful state that spies on them. Again, we deal with big brother themes, with Qohen slavishly “worker bee-ing” for a company handled by an oligarchy boss named "Management", played by Matt Damon, who is channeling his best Batman villain, Riddler-esqe, patterned zuit suit. Management sets Qohen on a quest to find out what Gilliam’s thoughts are on “religion vs. creation”. The further he looks, the more confused he becomes, burrowing in his own contempt at existence with no answers within attainable reach.
Compelled to find the truth, he finally comes across two characters, first a sweet girl named Bainsley, played by relative unknown, but engaging Melanie Thierry, and Management’s smart ass over confident teenage son, Bob. Both characters are working independently, in the role contributed to whether Qohen finds the meaning of life or not. Bainsley, is a tart, call girl, who is hired by Management to get in Qohen’s way, playfully distracting him from his task. Bob on the other hand, is there to tell Qohen, what’s real from fiction. Thierry, was a playful breath of fresh air. She is much too young for Qohen, but Thierry sell’s the character’s affection for him with a sweet-tooth like sincerity. She is well meaning, and well intentioned. She cares for him, but still has a job to do. You feel her honestly towards Qohen, finding something deeper to draw on in which there is a genuine plausibility as the fractured love interest. Waltz in reverse, treats her with only a small decibel of the reciprocation that she deserves; this is what made the chemistry work. There’s an opposites attract and then there is this. As previously stated, Qohen is everything, and he is nothing. He is a walking plural, searching for a beginning to reconcile with the end, and with Bainsley, it works because it shouldn't: they compliment not in looks, but in feelings.
Bob, for a techno-snot, has all the answers, but none of the work to show for them. He is a young 14-year-old pseudo hotshot kid that assists Qohen in focusing on what’s really important. Like any other young person, actor Lucas Hedges plays Bob, with a brash temperament, underlined with true admiration. With Qohen, Bob exclusively chides his “idiot-savantism,” making interactions for Qohen humanistically tough to relate to – but there is still friendship there quantifying in its own formulaic kind of way. In Gilliam’s future, the world is a depiction marred in social vapidity. There is a loss of personal connections penetrating the film, presented in a slick portrait of immediate accessibility at the sacrifice of substantial organic relationships. So it’s obvious Qohen needs his angel (Bob) and his devil (Bainsley) for human connections and subjective guidance. Overt cameras are placed throughout his world, watching Qohen’s every move in a complicit nature coupled with Gilliam’s masterwork of intertwining standard storytelling with high minded big brother rhetoric. And it’s a wonderful conflict that marks its visual territory throughout the film.
Thematic content pays off in a synthesis of ways that ranges from theology, mathematics, creationism and evolutionism. In lesser experienced hands it could not be pulled off, and to a lesser extent, some might feel it wasn’t - but I did. It kept my consciousness guessing, intriguing me even at times, especially when the movie was hard to digest in thought. Pieces of classic roman architecture from Qohen’s home would be ham-fisted with slipshod technological design that would lend to some off-putting incongruities with the environment. There is nothing gorgeous or smooth with the set designs of Gilliam’s choice. His wonderful camera angles off-set this, thrilling my view, and helping to coat over some of the lack of sophistication with the movie’s overall design.
Waltz, who is one of my favorite actors, was for me, the main attraction to this visually murky textured film. I wasn’t in love with the character, but understood his placement in Gilliam’s vortex. It wasn’t completely weird to connect with him because you are doing so off of Bainsley’s guilt ridden affections, and Bob’s prankish loyalty towards him. Don’t get me wrong - there is delirium on how Gilliam, and Waltz hold the movie together, while simultaneously parodying the very future Qohen finds himself in. Paranoia permeates throughout the film with real conviction. It’s handled in a way in which the characters don’t see it, but we, the viewers, do for we are far removed from the brainy, logical aspect by the end, and are able to enjoyably watch it unfold with illogical heart. Waltz treats the spyglass, like everything else – trivial, inconsequential, because it’s not as important as the promise of a phantom illicit phone call he desperately holds dear to answering.
This is where you see Bainsley’s and Qohen’s encounter after they first met. Qohen is cloaked in future monk guard but titillated, unprotected. Bainsley is sizing up Qohen and is following Management’s orders to blind Qohen to temptation – and it works, but only on a cursory level. Bainsley is artificial in costume by offering more through her presence and the interest towards Qohen, with auspicious femininity. She first busts through the door like her carefully placed chest busting cheaply through the latex nurse dress, in the end of the relationship however, she will look and leave a different person.
Gilliam’s signature is all over this movie to where it will either work for you or doesn't; however, his camera angles, strong pictorial voice, coupled with the promise of Christoph Waltz is more than enough "big bang" for your "big buck". The movie doesn't get too lost in the galaxy trying to find itself, leaving the audience scratching their collective bald heads. Yes, this is a small movie with big ambitions, but it’s also rewarding, and at times reflexive in how Gilliam coherently presents it. Furthermore, there is a combustible energy with the cast that doesn't come at the sacrifice of character development and emotions, allowing you to study the characters and their interactions to where you start to give a real damn. Qohen haphazardly, searches for the zero theorem, but along the way, in this Orwellian grounded macrocosm the “Zero” becomes the “Hero”; and Gilliam, with Waltz, should be more than proud enough to officially place this movie with Brazil and 12 Monkeys, thus completing a loony, but splendid futuristic trilogy.
3 out of 4