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
THE CONGRESS (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Does this make sense or is it just in my mind?”
- Robin Wright
It makes perfect sense Robin. And it’s not just your mind, but your body, likeness and image that is the structural glue to this thought-provoking intellectual rollercoaster of a ride. This movie is a brainy whirling dervish of a story, in which, like Wright, we ascertain whether we want to be part of where the story is leading us. With all of its allegories pertaining to the entertainment business, to Wright’s own personal attribution with her career and self mocking of the subject, The Congress makes more sense than you would expect going in. There are more normalcies here with Wright being our heroine in Ari Folman’s highly conceptual old school studio love letter that also damns the ink of the very pen it was scribed for as Hollywood lurks wearing its totalitarian mask. So, Robin, yes it does make sense because after all it’s not just your mind, the movie wants, it’s also the likeness of thoughts in it.
Ambitious, Challenging, Insightful, Out-of-the-box, Tender, Detached, Kooky, Intelligent
Very Intriguing Premise
Wonderful usage of colors as a form of expression
Robin Wright’s acting in natural space playing”herself”
Director’s usage of naturalism with film lens
Supporting cast – Harvey Keitel, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Danny Huston add legitimacy
Wonderful Animation Style
Movie’s narrative structure was a bit unfocused
Running length too long
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Ari Folman, director behind the brilliant Academy Award nominated Waltz with Bashir, brings a high-minded film experience where the movie is based off the Science Fiction novel ‘The Futurelogical Congress’ by Stanislaw Lem. Simply put, In Lem’s book, the protagonist, is split between two realms in which the Utopia turns out to be an illusion. Here Folman delivers Wright as the subject and merges the utopian/illusion aspect of Lem’s novel substituting it with the very aspect of Wright’s being. Splitting ballistically between “delusional and real mental states,” Wright grapples with the fated decision of giving up her likeness.
This movie voice is delivered with fictionalized truth. Wright, to her credit is a wonderful leading woman to follow, as she herself is puzzling to connect with. She is warm but remote, pretty but masculine, direct but only in a passing glance sort of way. This movie lends to her contrasting, enigmatic nature perfectly. She will tell you how she feels succinctly, taciturn, but spoken with a warm tone. When she leaves a scene the question of “what’s she thinking” is always lingering thereafter. Upon initial encountering of the “Machine” that can capture her likeness, Wright sternly wonders how this can be. Harvey Keitel, doing his nicest cuddly Mr. Wolf impression, down to the black tie and matching dinner jacket, convinces her that by agreeing to do this she will no longer have to be at the mercy of the creative process of film making. Her face tightens as he goes in further depth.
It’s glaringly apparent that certain aspects of Wright’s real life filmography, and hind-sighted career moves are a catalyst for the movie’s overarching need to thrust her towards dangerous self-effacing territory. It’s also used as a parlor trick with Wright and Folman performing the stunts in planned unison. I never followed her career until recently with Netflix’s political thriller ‘House of Cards’. Personally, I knew her as Buttercup in The Princess Bride and Jenny in Forrest Gump with her calling card being mostly a ‘can’t miss” talent in her youth. I know OF Robin Wright, but I don’t know who she is besides a “deep-cut kind of role choosing actress.” I still don’t know who she is after this movie unlike the way I know Julia Roberts. Roberts has that indomitable smile coupled with a cackling lighthearted but piercing laugh. Wright says more by saying less, but nothing ever memorable, nothing ever trademarked until now. In a way, that’s what’s ironically smart about a film that wants to capture her ‘likeness’ knowing aggressively that it’s her likeness that needs to be introduced in more mainstream roles (real life criticism at play here). The film wonderfully panders on it by framing her in a sci-fi popcorn movie as a whip snapping dominatrix. And yes, it’s as egotistically self-mocking as I wanted it to be.
Folman, adds quite of bit of different genre’s within this movie that works with a masterful yet reckless speed. The interplay consists of sci-fi, to drama, to heartwarming search, to backhanded film industry reverence. His camera is filmed and pointed with a slight David Lynch-ian quality. The film’s reality (as we know it) captures subtle complacently with a specific intended detachment. Flat movement dictates pacing. Rhythm is handled with unemotional, yet purposeful staleness that supports distance between not only you and the screen, but also allowing the characters to inhabit it to a full realistic proxy. Folman absolutely captures a tonal false sense of tranquility that intends to disorient, but also slipping a subconscious thought in comprehending why someone is accustomed to living in a delusional state as normalcy. You don’t know which world the director wants you to naturally relate towards. It’s that very touch that forces you to buy into the experience unfettered. Cascading between both worlds, Folman, per the reference of the book, wants to take his vision even further on screen. The studio decides that Wright’s likeness is not enough, and therefore wants to make a vaporized gas in which its user inhales into a consciousness where they become anyone they desire. Here is when fantasy turns to debauchery. Midway through the movie, we are transported to an animation reality, where we follow Wright in the future, having to negotiate away her “property”. In the animation world we get lively colors presented in a warped art-deco stylized future, where other participants show their “true” colors: We see huffed up versions of Clint Eastwood, Liza Minelli, to even Marilyn Monroe herself glamorized in Folman’s utopia. Once settled, the movie’s juxtaposition between reality and animation punches you in the face like a huffed up Muhammed Ali.
Folman, carefully presents both realities to which you are no longer questioning the verisimilitudes. This is strengthened by his lead actress: Wright is strident, she is safe, and she is unwavering. Wright never gets in awe or ahead of herself. Regardless if she is in the film either in her real state, likeness, or delusional state, Wright handles everything with aplomb. It’s this reliability that you need in a character/personality like hers to carry you through the thrilling madness. Her character doesn’t have a career arc because she is who she is, but the story arc is ever present. Robin Wright is experimenting with realities but not personalities. And thank goodness for that. Folman puts a lot of ideology in a blender and purees the hell out it. But she is more than capable of standing up to it. To a fault sometimes Folman tries to juggle too many genres and elements at the cost of nuanced balance. It comes across as an eyesore - the narrative at times is messy, and whimsically bizarre. Never once was I bored, but that isn’t necessarily an automatic positive when credentialing this movie. I feel as if the tension of merging the source material and Folman’s own creative impulses never married harmoniously to where consistent narrative flow dominated, instead becoming overly muddled at key moments.
Lastly, Wright is driven throughout the movie to take care of her teenage, brilliantly sensitive son played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is afflicted with crumbling deafness and blindness, which is part of the reason Wright adjudicates herself in signing off her likeness - ensuring he is taking care of financially. It’s this last key point that Folman doesn’t lose focus on giving it all a purpose, a drive, harnessing Wright to decide empirically which ‘reality’ to choose and why she chose it. She does it for her son, for a fleeting chance to find him, uncover him. This is what ties everything together thematically, ideologically, metaphorically, and cinematically to where Folman’s fictionalized truth doesn’t disobey your pensive trust.
Thank you beautiful exposition. Folman decides to throw us a bone and rudimentary explains his vision. The scene evokes a light and easy tone. Notice Wright is just taking things in a relaxed manner, as Keitel’s character playfully discusses the ramifications of signing the Lucifer-laden offer, and thus betraying her craft. Folman shoots this scene to be friendly, treating the topic at hand like a lark – but it’s misleading as there is a profundity that awaits her fateful decision.
I really loved the nerve of this movie, making me want to fully examine again, what the movie intends on promising, compared to what it achieves and how it’s delivered. It’s not met with derision. It’s met with a voyeuristic curiosity. I always complain about how cinema can be stale and with little to imagination nowadays; needing IMAX or CGI to sprinkle in the creative nuances that fail as a substitute for original thought or movie ingenuity. So, when a movie like this comes to the forefront with little to no fanfare, but delivered in an outrageous yet courageous manner, then I give this movie it’s well deserved due. Wild, far-reaching, and with the right amount of visual abstract grandeur - The Congress is an rewarding experience basking in its own lazy charm that anyone who wants to elevate what movies can actually do intellectually will end up pleasantly dumbfounded.
3.5 out of 4
A TRIP TO ITALY (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Bit of a downer, not quite sure why?”
– Steve Coogan to his son Joe
Throughout this film, Coogan is one big stalking sourpuss. He sulks around beautiful Italy wearing a black turtle neck, lips pursed as if he sucked on the worst lemon anyone would bite on, and he’s highly confident he doesn’t want to be a on this trip. He’s coerced in going on another restaurant tour for a review in a publication with his dear friend and co-hort Rob Brydon. This is a chance anyone in their right mind would jump at, whereas Coogan only feigns at. Coogan is a British comedian with specific talents chiefly, being sarcastic but in a zany humorous subversive smart-alecky way (see: Tropic Thunder or the lunatic in Hamlet 2.) Here we only see bits and pieces of that anticipatory humor, but not enough in which you voluntarily want to leave him at the Roman coliseum. The root of his ineptitude and unhappiness manifests to a melancholy stupor, as he, on a deeper level, tortures himself since he is no longer threatening in a sexual manner to the opposite sex. Italy, after all is the country for lovers, but what if you don’t love yourself or question if someone would even want to love you? He gets in his own way with his first world emo-problems. His teenage son, Joe, shows up later on to meet up saving Coogan, by Joe fighting off his father's self-pity osmosis where the aforementioned quote shoehorns its way in. Coogan is so forlorn that it becomes insufferable cloaking in misery over everything else in the picture.
Subtle, Capricious, Melancholy, Ornery, Overbearing, Casual, Terse, Dour, Escapist
Breathtaking cinematography of Italy
Casual enjoyment in the film’s presentation
Perfect observational commentary by Coogan and Brydon at times
Smooth direction from Michael Winterbottom
Brydon’s celebrity imitations were unbearable
Film’s and Coogan’s slavish melancholy character subject
Film did not capture the spirit and soul of Italy
Irritability with leads worsen as the film progresses
Theme of mid-life crisis was over-indulged
Lack of zeal from the point of view of the characters experiences
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
From IFC Films - In this 2009 sequel ‘The Trip’ comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reunite for a new culinary road trip, retracing the steps of the Romantic poets' grand tour of Italy and indulging in some sparkling banter and impersonation-offs. The characters enjoy mouthwatering meals in gorgeous settings from Liguria to Capri. ‘The Trip to Italy’ effortlessly melds the brilliant comic interplay between Coogan and Brydon into quieter moments of self-reflection, letting audiences into their insightful ruminations on the nuances of friendship and the juggling of family and career. The result is a biting portrait of modern-day masculinity.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
The film is somewhat of a “Mockumentary” starring British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, as fictionalized versions of themselves, having an excursion to the countryside of Italy for seven days for a food publication. Like the Fettuccine Alfredo on the plate, both heavily pepper the camera with “bits”, “shticks” and “Impressions” from unrecognizable to pretty good to just stop already while studiously riffing on ‘Alanis Morrisette’ songs to quoting the great 18th century poet-lothario, Lord Byron himself. In the backdrop of all the proper madcapping going on, Italy is wallpapered side to side in a magnificent composition of mesmerizing latitudes and breathtaking longitudes that make you cry with delighted splendor. Italy shoots itself. It’s Italy that directs you, not the other way around; even though the Director Michael Winterbottom did an admirable job working with what was given. He captures the elegance of the countryside’s relaxed subtle environment to a patient hush. The camera distills Italy to a waking superficiality where only daydreamers can feel it. We go town to town, site to site, and ruin to ruin with both leads as they come in conflict with their ever lingering middle age, summoning their inner Lord Byron for that one last attempt of the country’s intangibility only to take for granted the visual majesty.
The film sells itself quickly as a casual enjoyment. You are on a trip with these fellows - all is fun and it’s a ride. It’s guy’s night out, but that night is for a week. It’s a way to see Italy without having to see it. Only the Travel Channel could be this good. It’s clear from the immediate that Coogan isn’t having any of this and doesn’t bother even lying to the camera about it. He doesn’t really come alive until he is in the first restaurant with Rob Brydon hopping between Christian Bale and Michael Caine impressions, as each one tries to top one another - and were hilarious. But it wouldn’t last. Brydon, with his elongated face and semi-groomed wispy hair was just as annoying as Coogan. Look, in terms of talent both men ooze it in a Mel Brooks, The Producers kind of way that treads on Vaudevillian. They both play off of each other wonderfully like a “Laurel & Laurel.” However, both increasingly annoyed me as the days went on for different reasons. First, with Brydon, at the drop of every cannoli, he was doing a forced impression that someone off camera found hilarious – some were good, some were recognizable and some needed more practice. His comedic bits added up to comic chunks that made me want to hurl in the Mediterranean Sea. He is a likable little fart of a fellow, who like Coogan is still grasping for that one last attempt to be seen as young and virile. Whether it’s the woman that arranges his boat tour, or the young unsuspecting woman that shows him to his hotel room; Brydon comes across trying too hard. You don’t know, where the thin line between character and actor lays and which one was actually trying. To the film's credit, the lines are "Robin Thicke-like" blurred. Conversely, as mention above, Coogan, is frumpy in his attitude, wants nothing to do with anything remotely baroque, and for the first time, lost in his career. He carries this axiomatic personal exile of a black cloud throughout Italy to where creatively, within the movie’s intent, is supposed to serve as a counter weight to the glorious surroundings by adding pathos in each frame’s dimension. For me, it only weighed down the delight and promise the movie billed.
The only moments of true inspiration are when Coogan and Brydon’s female assistants meet them for professional lunch/visits towards the end, you know – keeping them on schedule and updating their itinerary. The movie didn’t need a change in scenery - it needed a change in attitude, and these women provide it. They stroke the leads collective egos, give Coogan a bit of self-encouragement that would make even sex panther Lord Byron proud. There is clear mix of energy once other characters come in the picture. When both are sharing screen time with others, they are free to interact without the personal contrived middle-aged philosophical bullshit. The movie sells itself as a getaway with a little bit of comedic cheek. However it comes across as two men who know they are the old guys at the club, with no one there to buy a drink for. The salt from the margarita is caked to its last rim, forcing a last call on these guys’ masculine, self-realized, David Hasselhoffian frailties to subjugate onto any female passerby. I wanted to have fun, I wanted to have fun with them, and live vicariously through this trip but as in real life, when you travel with someone, by day three - you are ready to leave them behind like a bad thought. Again, the film’s depth was ever present and greatly believable in that both men can’t overcome their peter pan tendencies to face the next chapter in their life thereby splattering their self prescribed miseries all over Italy. In that respect, the movie won. Stylistically, though, that is not that space I wanted the movie to operate in. Yes, I try not to push my expectations upon a movie good, bad or ugly, but if you are selling something that is primary and dominant in story or presentation (as in this case vacation through Italy with two presumable amiable leads), I have a firm belief that I should hold the movie accountable for that premise. This film could have been a breeze, breathing life with zestful relish; drama is always welcomed especially in a situation like this but you can’t have it both ways. You want to contemplate your existence in beautiful Rome? Sure, but whole ass that focus, don’t half ass it. You want to have the trip of lifetime but still be judgmental in your surroundings? Do it, but you can’t hold both at equal measure - and this film didn’t. In my opinion, however, it picked the wrong petulant half. When you go on vacation, it’s your time to be present in the moment, but also omnipresent in your thoughts with an accord of self-reflection to where when you go back to reality. You are somewhat a different person or at least strive to be. This movie didn’t focus on that, it focused on staying bratty without an inch of redemption until it’s too late but by then you are already packing your bags.
And I rest my case. Here, you get the movie in substantial nutshell. Both men look towards the ocean talking about the beauty that surrounds them but is only concerned with the young beauty in front of them. Both stand so close to the table to be noticed that it’s inflammatory, but no one at the adjacent table bears to glance their way as if to confirm they are as transparent as they believe. Both men are sad in trying to be noticed or reflecting back on harmless passing glances that meant the entire world to the younger versions of themselves. As Coogan wistfully says in a laconic sarcasm at the beginning of the clip…ah “la dolce vita.”
My argument with this movie is not of the choice in how the realism of both characters feelings is portrayed but over choice of the melancholy motif itself. The “characters” have concerns, hopes, joys and wisdoms that are self evident, but with that comes the emotionally proclivities to hammer down a wonderful, light breezy premise with a dark, underachieving, masked in self-pity detriment for two men that really aren’t doing too bad professionally or personally. This movie has wonderful scenes time to time, excellent cinematography, but its soul crushingly pathetic and whiny. I wanted an excursion with flippant but respectful commentary, not a trip with two average, but pretty well known stars or at least one well-known star and one who could do Al Pacino - that is a recipe even the great Lord Byron would want to bitchsmack the taste out for this faux culinary travel guide of misery.
2 out of 4
STARRED UP (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“ 'Starred up' means you are a leader."
-Neville to his son Eric
If Eric is a leader, what exactly is he a leader of? The movie’s greatest fault is that it doesn’t clearly show how exactly this comment is applicable (while Eric can’t even look in his father’s eyes without tersely wiping the disgust for him out of the corners from his directed brow). Eric throughout the movie, does exhibit redeemable qualities if he chooses, and to a larger extent the movie follows this lead like a ball and chain. However, like the quote above towards Eric, and my disbelief in it, Eric is not interested in voluntarily uncovering a catharsis, he’s forced to resent it, his survival demands it. The quote is seen as an ill-fated attempt from his father, in my opinion, wanting to enforce a false positive into Eric because it’s really the father who at one time, was his son, foresees his progeny likely to follow his footsteps as the inherent leader of the prison like a half broken prince to the throne. Eric is just the son of the leader, an institutionalized, farm-system prospect violent killer who really is inherently too redeemable to ever kill.
Brutal, honest, hard, parental, gritty, macho, claustrophobic, unrelenting, realistic
Sincere and raw acting lead performances by Jack McConnell & Ben Mendelsohn
Authentic themes and message about upbringing and conditioning
Excellent depiction of the world and its inhabitants within the prison
Unflinchingly violent action scenes
Directed and shot like a cable drama, not shot with a theatric lens
Moments of unconvincing motives and forced character actions
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
The main character 19-year-old Eric (Jack O’ Connell) is an arrogant and ultra-violent juvenile lock up that is transferred to the same adult prison facility as his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn, The Dark Knight Rises). As his explosive temper quickly finds Eric enemies in both the prison authorities, fellow inmates and his already volatile relationship with his father, when he is pushed past his breaking point, Eric turns to a volunteer psychotherapist to help him handle the conflict of gang politics, his father, prison corruption and ultimately himself.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Starred Up is a British prison drama directed by newcomer David Mackenzie and written by Jonathan Asser. The movie is based on a book of Asser’s own life experiences working as a voluntary therapist at HM Prison Wandsworth that controls some of the country’s most hardened criminals. The term “starred up” is an idiom onto prison life meaning an early transfer of a criminal, in this case, the main character Eric, from a young offender Institution to an adult prison. Furthermore, the movie is a hardened prison coming of age story of relationships for the main character Eric, as he and his father, who is also a prisoner in the same lock-up, smash heads with painful derision trying to form some sort of bizarre re-kindled father and son dynamic. It’s the relationship of Eric and his father Neville that is the heart and the engine to this charged up bull-dozer of an emotional movie. Eric, played by Jack O’ Connell, is a revelation. For the first 20 minutes of the movie, he is being escorted by crooked correctional officers. Eric: broken, bent, and mishandled as if hunters caught a wild boar, lays still but fortuitous, ticking like a time bomb ready to explode with physical expectancy. For the first twenty minutes there isn’t any dialog with none of the characters talking because the movie showcases its audibility through every thick celled slammed door, every swing of a metallic cold iron bar, and every boot heel thud echoing through the hopelessly endless yellow fainted walls.
The most brilliant part on the filmmaker is to introduce us not only to the character but also the situation, and ultimately, his nemesis the prison itself. If character and texture was currency in this movie than the prison would be the bank holding all the deposits. Chipped walls greet your eye line as you walk with Eric; Day-Glo light smatters through to give a breath of life in a place where it goes to die. Walls that tremble with fear smiting onto your eyes, blinding you with a shoddy effervescent palate of a mix of orange, yellow and shock. As we are introduced to the prison, walking with Eric, he quietly seethes with little to no body motion, just waiting for his chance: like a human switchblade with its knife tucked in ready to flick open at the right opportunity. He never says a word and doesn’t have to. O’Connell is brute strength in an energy can. One part wants me to see him weapon X berserker rage, the other wants me to get his act together so we can both get out immediately. That is the strength of this movie.
You the viewer feel punished and trapped as Eric. You feel as if you did something wrong to end up there as you can’t escape its authenticity - the authenticity makes the movie unshakably its most dangerous. Coupled with this are excellent performances, but it’s truly Ben Mendelshon that’s slippery good in his role. He’s a character actor that falls just short of Gary Oldman, but he’s not that far in the rearview mirror. He is not an actor that you initially gravitate to, but is one that creeps up on you when you least suspect him. I have yet to see him duplicate a character, mannerism or even a shade of a previous performance. He portrays a father who knows he fucked up and has no future, but doesn’t want the same for his son; Mendelsohn plays a bleeding heart criminal-lifer that wouldn’t think twice to stab you in yours, or at least break it with his suppressed angry homo-sexual gentility.
Even with the incredible acting portrayals, the movie beyond the hurried visceral action scenes, was indifferently paced with a casual malaise. Regardless of my understanding that essentially this movie is structured as watching someone living their day to day life in a prison as the equivalent of a baby-boomer retiree, the tension was always at an emotional manageable pedestrian pace. Scenes and acting were a bit forced to where my interest, at times, would wane; it's during the quieter moments the real heart of the movie is exposed, but too much the movie mundanely leaditself to a step above outright boredom. To offset this, the movie would go into comical extreme violence to get its point across, just in case you forget, that you are watching a prison movie. Much of the drama beyond Eric and his father Neville was unconvincing for the most part. The movie had forced its relationships to being truncated and hurried to unrecognizable stasis. Instead of letting Eric fully have well rounded relationships develop, the plot and script placed them forcibly on him, and it came across to the point that Eric welcomed it as long as it got him on to the next scene. There are fragmented moments where Eric is supposed to bond aggressively to his therapy group mate’s passive aggressive, in which repetition would get the better of the movie. Eric would mean mug on a group mate, they mean mug back – and then in one fell swoop, all is forgiven, with everyone ready to shoot a music video and be a dance crew. It’s not that the movie didn’t bother with its humanistic details; it just didn’t mold them fully outside of what was established between the main genuine connection of Eric and his father Neville.
The movie pushes Eric towards the psycho-therapist Oliver played by Rupert Friend (Homeland) where we get scenes that embrace Eric’s derangements towards everyone to a work in progress pace to which there is a hint of Eric responding to the sessions. He is joined by a handful of black inmates that test Eric, and then befriend him, with unconvincing nerve leaving me puzzled but ultimately unmoved. Maybe it's because the script eludes that no matter what has befallen onto Eric, he is and always be perfectly fine by himself, and there is a rudimentary aspect that he is doing all of us a favor by going through the motions of personal attachment to something or someone else without really having the fortitude to fully commit. There was slight change in him from beginning to the end, but it’s mostly insignificant, petty and voluntarily unrealized. Even Oliver can no longer stand there and intermittingly watch the fruits of his "boy crush" labor spoil rotten with an academic exhaust.
In this scene, you witness not only the brutality and harm that Jack O’ Connell can emit forcefully in his acting, but you get a real sense that this kid is a lifer in the prison system, and has thrown hands against the correctional officers before, currently and in the past. O’Connell gets prepared systematically, lustfully but also carefully as he wants to dish out as much punishment just as much as he can take it, knowing how to absorb it and then fully re-releasing it out of his body violently.
Having to bypass all of the obligatory homo-erotism, bland narrative movement and forced actions, Starred Up is a meaty, bare-knuckled study of a young person that is doomed to ever amount to anything besides a statistic. Ben Mendhelson is the true beauty of performance with his role of the father, and its his complexity that really shines through the prison bars that holds him behind. This movie’s authenticity and wonderful performances were amazing to walk through, but the forced tension, unconvincing motives and amateurish camerawork and lens holds the movie back like the prison guard’s plastic shield holding back Eric's face against the backdrop of his cell. This movie is rewarding but under the right circumstances. If you are looking for a prison movie with added realism and depth but lack of narrative movement this is for you, unfortunately - If you're going to lock me up I want something more intuitively compelling that's going to stick me in the ribs the next day like a makeshift weaponized toothbrush blade.
2 out of 4
TO BE TAKEI (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"It's okay to be Takei."
Yes it is. The man, the myth, the attainable George Takei, who came into living rooms and theaters as Mr. Sulu, had the keen awareness, taste and adaptability skills that helped him make a leap from only a Gene Roddenbury pop culture phenomenon foot soldier, to become in his own right, a millennial pop-culture zeitgeist. The above quote was triggered as a comical but firm response to a then story of the State of Tennessee trying to pass legislature to ban its public school students from officially using the work “gay” to reference any and all school lessons to entrench that it was not alright, in their view: to be born of that orientation and lifestyle. Takei, who is fiercely gay and proudly out, decided with shrewd acuity, jumped on the marketing opportunity and suggested that instead of using “gay” to just use “Takei”! And as we know by demonstration of his over 5 million Facebook followers, it’s just not okay, its really damn good.
Campy, devilish, light hearted, balanced, truthful, determined, politically astute, complex
Takei’s voice is syrupy good
Movie’s infectious delivery
Movie’s Narrative Spirit
Unsmooth emotional transitions
Flat in pacing during key parts
Focused too much on the husband as part of the subject
A missed opportunity to uncover more about his involvement with ‘Allegiance’ production
Weak technical direction at times
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
A keen documentary that encapsulates over seven decades of the life of actor and activist George Takei who has boldly journeyed from a WWII internment camp, to the helm of the starship Enterprise, to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans, while also showing George and his husband Brad on the star's playful and profound trek for life, liberty, and love.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Premiering on January 18th at the Sundance Film Festival and picked up by Starz Digital Media Distribution, the documentary shows the career of Star Trek actor George Takei, and paints a well-rounded portrait of a then young Japanese-American who at first survived Internment camp and became a rare Asian American movie and TV star (when it was truly difficult) with one of the most iconic pop culture sci-fi franchises of all time. The documentary directly puts Takei right in the center, where by his own admission is where he always wanted or needed to be. The film focuses on Takei’s personal and professional life and how both worlds would clash with ferocious tension, leaving Takei to make some hard choices in the face of post-modern racial stereotypes exercised by Hollywood, that would threaten at times, the very talent that got him there in the first place. You are forced, when first watching the film, to take notice how he deftly reintroduced himself to millennials, onto geeky pop culture children of his original fanbase, and did it on his own terms without having to ungraciously pimp himself using the star trek brand. The appreciation of Takei is that for longevity’s sake compared to his star-trek companions there are no determinant signs he is slowing down. There is an unknowingly refreshing complexity that Takei slides back and forth from when telling his story with a punchy nuanced zeal.
The movie's emotional intonation is an interplay between Takei’s syrupy golden voice and how it’s delivered pressingly tight between his multifaceted persona of comic pop ingénue and a sharp booming advocate. He demonstrates an ability in this movie to relish how people view him and how he perpetuates it to a proud delirium. Crossing over movie star currency between Howard Stern, and socio-political lectures is the take-away with him. He is layered but still approachable. He is complex but understandable. He is psychologically cutting in the most honorable, best intended, and warm way. There are many shades of the man that create the whole experience.
Most of the punch from the movie comes from an exaggerated simmering beef between Shatner and Takei. It’s a cross between little brother wanting to ankle bite big brother's crossover template, but also a dismissive reticent coldness by Shatner as he recoils and denounces any relationship with Takei, even though he informs us by participating in an interview, sans gun to head. You never know with Shatner, as he is not a man, he is an ad-lib. Takei seems genuine in his perplexing animosity, as what you see with him is what you get, leaving you satisfied. You never question where you stand with Takei, and that is his reverence. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t “mockmentarize” the alum beef by choosing to write it off like a Takei deprecated giggle. The movie’s heart was ever present, but there was nothing to drive the presentation through its more flaccid moments. A lot of attention is given to Takei’s husband, and at first, introduction is given where he isn’t just the bad cop to Takei’s good cop but more like Takei’s co-star. This is where he should have stayed, playing off his famous spouse. However, his background was overexposed and fleshed out. I really didn’t mind him and the movie didn’t suffer from his testimonial, but let’s stay focused. I’m here for Takei, not for him. Takei, for mainstream audiences really need this movie to find out more about who he is and what separates him from the possible ignorant perception of him being a caricature that can come from long-term association/relevance of Star Trek. So, this film needs every opportunity to show the side of Takei that we don’t see past the gratuitous “whatever-Con” appearances he cash grabs a signature at. The entitled focus of the husband gets in the way stopping the momentum dead in its tracks.
Takei has many sides that operate agreeably. He is part politician, part civic contributor, part activist, but also part comic book (literally). It all comes together in his personality as real, and convicted, but the direction of the film mishandled the transition of Takei’s serious more referential professorial moments into his more relaxed on-stage intimate self. The movie could have found a better more nuanced way to shift its emotional gears back and forth a tad more gracefully. Because of this editing clash, the documentary at times suffered in spirit. The subject is a whirling dervish of delight and brings a wonderfully bloated resume with him. Perfectly encapsulating it from moment to moment is not an easy task. Beyond Takei, his career arc and his matinee idol baritone energy, I needed something more to drive the movie home, wanting some tension and conflict of this man beyond what only we see him or people like his sexual orientation afflicted from on MSNBC. There is a casual focus on Takei’s semi-autobiographical musical play called “Allegiance” which re-tells the detriment of many Japanese-American’s families’ plight surviving internment camps. I firmly believe that if the movie incorporated this aspect more intently of Takei’s involvement and how he was so instrumental in inspiring its producers to formulate the idea around his experience. It would had been a good additive plot to follow him in the little known play towards a glorious defining opening show, fleshing out his acting process, his craft and the goal of possibly the big leagues of Broadway. Perhaps then we would have had something. Overlay this with his pop-culture phenomena, personal confession, activist endeavors and his history - we would have had something virtuously well-rounded. I feel this element could have lifted the movie out of the lesser slumbering parts to keep the momentum from stumbling at the end.
In this scene, Takei and his husband Brad, go for a walk through a park. What starts out as an easy interview scene between spouses, you get a hint of each other’s criticism of one another, albeit slight, but it’s a telling moment. You can see that Takei, in one beat, is uncharacteristically uncomfortable with showing intimacy on screen, shifting to admonishing his spouse to then settling in pragmatism regarding his past when choosing to closet himself at the expense of his acting career.
This movie is colorful like a box of Crayolas; you are enlivened by Takei’s voice and the message that gloriously comes out of it. However, historically, the genre of documentaries at heart is an exposure of something you don’t know or just slightly know and want to know more about. Teach me something. And this does but not to the point where it can justify a trip to the theaters. This documentary didn’t do that outside of its superficial paint by numbers storytelling. The movie is at its strongest on what experiences created and shaped him, but by the time we meet the celebrity “brand” that we are familiar with now, there was something that left me wanting more especially towards the lethargic end. Technical issues aside, he is very inspiring, enjoyable and entertaining and to a greater extent so is the movie – for he is the movie. When it’s good: its tongue meets cheek meets understandable righteousness, but when it’s not good it’s because there is also a pedestrian directional point of view which mundanely cripples the exciting beginning energy it establishes. It’s definitely good to be Takei, but the movie’s technical direction, uneven transition, weak directional touch and lack of narrative drive towards the end is definitely not.
2.5 out of 4
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Look Jon you’re just going to have to go with this.”
- Don (Scoot McNairy) to main character Jon (Domhnall Gleeson)
Never had truer words pierced my ears when trying to decipher a movie’s nature. Jon played by Domhnall Gleeson, just joined a band fronted by the inanimate headed Frank called “Soronprfbs”. Upon initial meeting he speaks with the band’s director Don, who relates to Jon that what Frank, the band members, and Don restlessly do is all a little wacky, but that “Jon is just going to have to go with this” if he wants to remain as the band’s new milquetoast keyboarder. I have been anticipating seeing this movie for quite a while - like our main character Jon has been looking forward desperately to becoming a credibly accepted musician, so both of us decided good, bad or unassailably bizarre, we were going to go with Frank wherever he leads us with those abysm hollow eyes and Paper Mache’-molded sincere smile.
Sly, unpretentiously cool, manic, kooky, awesomely offbeat, irreverent, scatterbrained
The leads: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson
Funny writing and dialog
Excellent criticism on millennial sub-pop culture
Enjoyable pacing and rhythm
Wobbly third act
Loses momentum towards the end
Cliché ridden climax
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
From Irish Director Lenny Abrahamson is an offbeat comedy about a young wannabe musician (Domhnall Gleeson – True Grit & Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows 1 & 2) who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant-garde pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender – 12 years a slave, X-Men First Class & Shame) a musical genius who hides himself inside a large fake plastered head, and his terrifying bandmate Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Dark Knight & Crazy Heart)
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Fassbender plays a fictional character based off a real English musician and comedian Chris Sievey, who fronted a band called ‘The Freshies’. Sievey had a real life alter-ego called Frank Sidebottom (Same plaster head in the movie) that started in the late 1970’s until his death in 2010. Co-written by an ex-band mate Jon Ronson, this is a fantastically weird fictional testimony in which Sievey’s own memoirs are the foundation of the plot itself. With this personal attribution into the film by its aforementioned collaborators, Frank is filmed with a disorienting sense of heart and respect. Frank is simultaneously objectified but is bizarrely connected to everything around him that strongly influences the characters and the creative aspect the film itself is made. Fassbender is really enjoyable as Frank: He dons another accent this time as a grifting space cadet Midwesterner in the best Americana way. And he does it convincingly.
The film flies in the first half with a rushed refreshing pace that is enjoyably quirky but also unforgiving in its critiques on pop culture pretention. FRANKS MASK IS THE MOVIE!! You can’t help but buy into it sight unseen, and when Gleeson’s character reacts, we react with him with delirious laughter. Gleeson was very noteworthy. This was the first time I have watched him from and center; with the new Star Wars episode 7, this gave me a chance to gain an impression of him before he becomes part of a movie making machine, which could put his budding career into submission. I was delighted with his performance and this character had a true story arc as we view this journey through his point of view. The movie is at its best when all the characters of the band are trapped in a cabin to do an “album” – Told through Jon’s personal diary and consigned to his whorish twitter handle we watch the distaste of his band member’s towards him develop, as he is trying to “viralize” them with strip mall commercialism giddy earnest . Leading the charge is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara as Frank’s protector, fellow bandmate, enabler and general movie sociopath. I like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s contribution and tension she delivers against Jon. Some of the funnier scenes involve her interaction with Gleeson. He perpetually finds himself in her eviscerated cross hairs like a poor little sandy blonde haired bunny would be prey to a carnivorous chainsaw wielding mountain bear!
At times I was smiling gleefully as this movie delivered a sub-culture Alt Rock style thrill to me as did Scott Pilgrim delivered a sub-culture alt punk- pop video game style. As with Scotty P. the elements of the characters and their personalities all work and brim to a hard boil when they all are forced to interact within Frank’s world. Once the movie moves into the third act, and starts to normalize itself, Frank loses all the goofy, weird goodwill and humor it developed, suffering in its own creative tonal shift. The movie trades sincere irreverent humor for more of a downtrodden humanistic effect once it starts in wanting to swim in the vortex pool of adoration provided by the indie music scene of South by Southwest. Once this happens the movie takes a slight insufferable dive, and falls into cliché’s of typical rock band rise and fall drama. This is when movie loses its plastered head. I wished the movie were to stay true to playing by its own rules and having the outsiders adjust to Frank and not vice-versa. Further, I wish this movie stayed confident with its premise. Personally, I didn’t want to find out who the true Frank is and what molded him, I wanted to remain lost in that mask, cause after all: Frank has a certain vibrant abstract genius, but it’s the mask that iconically amplifies it. I understand, and in a differential way see why the movie shifts to where it ends, however, I wanted to stay exposed to the wonderfully created alternative timeline that Frank first introduced me to in the beginning.
In this scene, Jon narrates his experience with Frank and the rest of the band as they try to begin Frank’s visionary process of creating their album. The scene is filmed in a way that would make Wes Anderson proud but it gives not only a direct explanation of what the narrator is deciphering in Franks world; Movie also allows us to ascertain what exactly we are dealing with here, however, to the scenes brilliance, and to a greater extent the movie overall, it never strays too far out to the point where it becomes incomprehensible.
For the first two thirds of this movie I enjoyed myself immensely and was ready to slap a hardcore “Best Movie Ever status” as it maintained a rhythm and complexity that was refreshingly funny. I have been exposed to high-concept, avant garde & cult movies before, such as Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 fantastic ‘Rubber’ (about a homicidal spare tire) and 70’s cult horror underground classic ‘Basketcase’! Now these movies are different in genre and tone, but are similar to Frank in absurdist premise and ambitions. Like the two referential movies I listed, Frank delivers with a wonder first two thirds, but gets smacked upside its big ol’ Art Decoupage’d head with a somber last act. However, there are fiercely more good elements to this movie than horrible which ultimately makes it rewarding and definitely a movie worth seeing in the theaters or ‘ON DEMAND’ – This movie is funny as hell as long as it doesn’t try to be normal.
3 out of 4
A MOST WANTED MAN (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"You have a job to do. You’re going to help me do it."
– Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe)
The above quote, in a nutshell, gives the viewer all he or she needs to know that Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Gunther Bachmann, a head of a German Counter Terrorist Government cell, will singularly exert his force, when necessary, upon any and all things that stand in his way to get the man he wants - a most wanted man. As we follow his lead, he suffocates any situation and person that come within his inscrutable range, and because of that, results come at unforeseen cost.
Understated, sober, methodical, cerebral, pushy, impetuous, perilous, straightforward
Excellent lead castings (Hoffman, Dafoe & Wright)
Another good adaptation to a Le’ Carre novel.
Miscasting of Rachel McAdams
Lack of energy for long parts of the movie
Lack of momentum at times
Plot ‘spins its wheels’ at times
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
A half-Chechen, half- Russian, (Grigory Dobrygin) brutally tortured immigrant turns up in Hamburg’s Islamic community. He is coming to claim his father’s mob money, with both German and US security agencies, led by Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Assisted by American agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) they race to establish the man’s true identity between a broken man looking for asylum or an a Islamic radical with extremist ties to a larger terrorism network.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
The movie is based on John Le Carre’s 2008 novel with the same name. The novel is a critique of then U.S. President George W. Bush’s foreign policy treatment towards all alleged suspicious targets or persons of interest globally. It casts the United States as this Machiavellian seek and destroy behemoth war ship in which it will do anything to capture, persecute and abuse all resources and allies as Bush mandated capturing “the evil doers”. Also this movie is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last role prior to his ill-fated death earlier this year. Like ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Le Carre’ gives a balanced narrative skeleton to the film adaption in that we are experiencing, voyeuristically, real and tangible insight to the prosaic world that spy cartels operate in.
Typically when it comes to spy thrillers the audiences are used to certain clichés – convoluted plot to man on the run narrative to trust no one self loathing capped off by clandestine action with ham-handed assuredness that the protagonist will eventually wade through the double agent bullshit, win big and get the game’s high score. To this movie’s credit it doesn’t go that route. What is most awarding about this movie is that ‘A Most Wanted Man’ is probably the most objective spy film that I have ever seen. It lays out a very balanced presentation of each character, their respective roles, and how it all comes together without blatantly patronizing the viewer to lean towards defined roles automatically associating with America the good guys, while the rest of the world – bad guys! Typically spy movies play on your inherent allegiances that you bring with you to a movie (such as any Vietnam war movie or a character that went rouge and is now the target); you are given a pre-determined protagonist to follow and from that point you travel with the character as they work out their trust issues while keep his or her head on a Jason Bourne like swivel. Thankfully this movie doesn’t do that. From the outset we are interested in our “Most Wanted Actor” Seymour Hoffman. He is an intelligent wrecking ball of a man that will get what he needs and how quickly he wants it. He is the king of the mountain in this movie as he works his subordinates tirelessly, manipulates his moles, and emotionally browbeats his captives while also playing footsies with American agent Martha Sullivan (Wright). The movie provides a whose who of notable actors such as Willem Dafoe as the international banker to Issa’s father’s money, and Rachel McAdams as the plucky yet naïve German Human Rights attorney fighting for Issa’s asylum. Of all the cast, McAdam’s was the hardest to swallow. She wasn’t convincing in her role as the aforementioned attorney. It’s hard to take McAdams seriously, no matter how hard she takes seriously herself or the role. She is suitable in parts where she can unleash her nasty side as long as it fits within the character, that looks like her if she was playing derivation of a Rachel McAdams like character. That's not to say she has to play herself like Jennifer Aniston, but roles where you expect her playing someone that is a version of herself, such as Regina George in 'Mean Girls' or Owen Wilson’s fiancé in 'Midnight in Paris.' It’s not a stretch for her to relate to those particular roles. This is not to say McAdams doesn’t have substance because she clearly does, but as an attorney that needs to fight for her client? Never do we get the feeling that Issa is in protective hands with her, especially with the Lion of the spy jungle Bachmann on the prowl. Regardless of this, Willem Dafoe was truly the most rewarding actor in the movie. As stated before he plays an everyman type international banker that is in trust of Issa’s father’s money. Dafoe normally plays characters where danger is always lurking behind his unique face but his approach towards others is brimming with a seething gentility, but misleadingly as he can only do us a favor by holding it back. In this movie, Dafoe still carried those same natural traits but it was the subservience that his character demonstrated at almost a willful yet unnerving accommodation towards Bachmann that I have never seen from the actor before. For the better part of the movie he is an order taker that neither wants to give in to Bachmann but at the same time doesn’t want to let him down either.
This is the first scene where you get a glimpse as to what kind of people Bachmann and Richter are, and how they are complete opposites politically, professionally and emotionally. Richter is trying to give Bachmann Issa’s intent and motivations, and Bachmann is trying to convince Richter otherwise. None of the characters in the movie know what the true case is with anyone, but are driven completely on trust towards Issa (Richter) but also mistrust against Issa (Bachmann). This is the first scene in the movie’s plot that we the audience, having the full picture, know exactly where each person stands. This makes our view from the vantage point that no one is classically good or bad, just objectively doing what they feel is right.
'A Most Wanted' is, at the end of the day, fool’s gold. It’s acted credibly, filmed studiously and crafted technically accurate and because of that a viewer may say “I’m not moved by this movie emotionally but because everything seems real, therefore this is a good movie” and that is not correct. Yes, this movie provides a good causeway to marrying the book’s ether and merging it to celluloid with an important pay off at the end. I found myself however more times than not being disinterested of the whole contrived Richter and Issa co-dependency passive aggressive relationship. Furthermore there is nothing notable about this movie aside from the fact that this was Seymour Hoffman’s last role. Granted Le Carre’s books are good source materials but this movie doesn’t have an academy award winning highlight like Gary Oldman’s transfixed performance in ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ or its atmospheric cold war moodiness. What’s ultimately missing in this movie, when it comes to this genre, is masterful intrigue. Unfortunately, there is not a whiff of that in this film to complement the workman like stoic direction, screenplay, style and tone thus giving a feel of another boring day at the spy office.
2.5 out of 4
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“You know how you can tell when you’re really getting old?
No one ever says the word death around you any more”
– The Writer to Father James
An elderly writer played by the honorable M. Emmet Walsh says the fantastic above quote to Father James (Brendan Gleeson) as he is casually turning in to bed for the night. The line was met with an uproarious collective laugh in the theater, as it was funny, but also haunting. Father James, who is middle aged, has death looming over himself for the theme of death is foreboding and unforgiving in this movie. Father James, again, is not old but the weight of the guilt he takes on from the sins of his parishioners is and thus death is not verbal but symbolic in a gnawing ancillary manner.
Grim, weighty, unpretentious, somber, warm, heavy, wryly humorous
Smart Aleck tone
Iconographic frames and scenes
Dominating lead performance from Gleeson
Mostly indecipherable dialog
Forced anti-political correct humor
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Father James (Brenden Gleeson of Harry Potter, The Guard & In Bruges) is a good man and priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought to him by way of a death threat from a mysterious parishioner during confession. With just one week to live, Father James seeks to comfort his emotionally fragile adult daughter (Kelly Reilly of Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows) while also reaching out to help members of his church with their various religious moral and ethical issues in addition to reflecting on his very own existence.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
This movie directed by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), was created when the director wanted to make a film where instead of creating a study of the typical priest abusing young boys and the fallout from the aftermath of such, he would do one about a good honest priest. This film is constructed as one part art-house “who dunnit” with the foreboding mystery of the death threat, and one part framed narrative character driven drama where all the villagers are not only suspects but key members in forming Father James story arc as he contemplates the world that surrounds him. Each scene and town member he encounters adds a thread of dimension to the richness of his story and theology behind what religious bureaucracy Father James is associated with and how, under exigent circumstances, he chooses to deal with it.
This movie begins and ends with Gleeson’s performance. As Father James he demonstrates that “Father”is multifaceted when it comes to his relationship to the different townspeople he encounters. Wearing a long dark ominous robe, McDonagh demonstrates a wonderful contrast with placement in each scene showcasing Gleeson as the subject of his compositions. There is a certain non movement of the robe when Gleeson maneuvers profoundly through town. The robe takes on a life of its own with its religious symbolic garb but also as if Gleeson himself is a manifested walking angel of death. Watching this I got certain cinema denotations to Ingmar Bergman’s the ‘Seventh Seal’. In the Bergman’s classic, the thematic imagery created a tension where the traveler and the personification of death play a game of chess on a beach. Death is dressed in dramatic contrast with a milky white oval shaped face, but draped in a long black formless gown. Nothing more, nothing less. To me there is a calming beauty a beach provides gifting us transformation within its oceanic waters and with ‘Calvary’ McDonagh, in my opinion, achieves the same tension. Father James walks along the beach several times shining beautifully in cinematography with his black cape slicing through the crystal blue water and dirty white sanded beach. If one were to see Father James, one could mistakenly feel he was the placeholder of death by encompassing him, then enabling him, and eventually shrouding him. The true emotional touch and catharsis comes in the form of Father James daughter Fiona. Fiona comes to the town to spend time with him after a failed suicide attempt, and like her father she is also going through issues seeking paternal guidance. The preexisting affection between the two characters is there without the familiarity of it being there. It’s truly the only time when Father James can keep his guard down. Humor is more subtle here in this movie compared to McDonagh’s ‘The Guard’ but nevertheless its saves the movie from drowning in its own self pity. The movie’s screenplay and presentation is so immersive with its unique idiosyncratic people that at times you get lost in the “meaning of it all” opposed to who the actual presumptive killer could be. Like Father James, I took for granted that he is on deathwatch since it was handled in a way that the inevitability of it (Amityville weekday countdown was presented) was secondary compared to the more interesting facet of fleshing out the characters and the interchangeable parables each one espouses onto Father James. Even as some of the jokes and punches come from racial humor and being politically incorrect, it wasn’t a complete eye roll from me. Like ‘In Bruges’, which was directed by McDonagh’s brother Martin McDonagh, the acidic commentary and bigotry was a bit obligatory. Whereas, in ‘In Bruges’ it fit like a glove because of the absurdist tone and delivery of the movie forces Colin Ferrell and the supporting characters to rely on it, ‘Calvary’ is bleaker in mood and thereby not as seamlessly successful with its usage of humor as ‘In Bruges’ was. Further, ‘In Bruges’ uses its humor as a commentary on a stranger in a strange land with strange people, almost as a crutch whereas the humor in ‘Calvary’ is used to assuage some of the darker bleaker tones it produces.
Father James is in the room with town Inspector Stanton, and with this scene Father James comes to speak with the good old Inspector in the ways of sexual deviancy. However, as the scene unfolds it is apparent that Father James possibly came to get a gun to protect himself but it’s done in a implicit way. Never once in the scene is Father James confessing to the Inspector on the exact intended use, but McDonagh wants the viewer to make that visual connection. And with that it goes against everything Father James stands for while also accentuating his developing complexity. In an earlier scene Father James is talking down a young misguided man from enlisting in war as it forsakes the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. The gun offers no sanctuary or protection to either Father James or us the audience as it is emblematic of the possibly hypocrisy the good ol’ Father could bring upon himself.
‘Calvary’ is a fairly good arthouse ‘whodunnit” film that doesn’t sell itself as a murder mystery but is mysterious in its own chasten way. With fine small performances, breathtaking cinematography, and beautiful Irish country landscapes surrounding Gleeson’s memorable performance, this movie offers a lot. There were times that scenes and direction were charged with the same gothic swath and depression that of Paul T. Anderson’s ‘There will be blood’. McDonagh likes to keep his movies in isolated situations, and studies them with microscopic sensitivity, and Gleeson never once lets up his burden, carrying the same smart-ass workman like ambivalence and warmth demonstrated in his other roles. There aren’t any pretentions with this movie nor does it cater towards commenting against the historical transgressions of the Catholic Church. The movie’s only concern is to study the irony that a good man could be punished for the actions of his brethren and how he handles it without completely denouncing it.
3 out of 4