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Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

©2014 Boyhood Inc. / IFC Productions I, LLC

A Detour FilmProduction

Written and Directed by Richard Linklater

Produced by Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, and John Sloss

Edited by Sandra Adair

Cinematography by Lee Daniel and Shane Kelly

Running time: 165 (5 mins. credits)

Budget: $2.4 mn. ($200K/year; made $43.4 mn. at box office)

First released at Sundance, Jan. 2014; domestic, July 2014

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some depictions of teen drug/alcohol use)

Reviewer age rating: 14+ (the language kids will hear anyway)

Stars

Ellar Coltrane; Patricia Arquette; Lorelei Linklater; Ethan Hawke; Andrew Villarreal; Jenni Tooley (Annie); Zoe Graham; Jessi Mechler; Marco Perella (Prof. Bill Welbrock, stepdad); Brad Hawkins (Jim, final stepdad)

Additional Cast (in order of appearance)

Elijah Smith as Tommy

Steven Prince as Ted (Olivia’s boyfriend after Mason Sr.)

Libby Villari as grandmother Catherine

Jamie Howard as Mindy (daughter of Welbrock)

Andrew Villarreal as Randy (son of Welbrock)

Ryan Power as Paul

Charlie Sexton as Jimmy

Evie Thompson as Jill

Nick Krause as Charlie

Roland Ruiz (Machette) as Ernesto

Richard Andrew Jones and Karen Jones as grandpa Cliff and Nana (Annie’s parents)

Sam Dillon as Nick

Jesse Tilton as April

Richard Robichaux as Mason’s boss

Will Harris as Sam’s college BF

Indica Shaw as Hooper

Andrea Chen as Sam’s college roommate

Mona Lee as high school teacher

Bill Wise as Uncle Steve

Alina Linklater as twin cousin #1

Charlotte Linklater as twin cousin #2

Maximillian McNamara as Dalton (dorm roommie)

Taylor Weaver as Barb (dorm roommie)

Review

For one of Richard Linklater’s best films, no scene is polished with visual effects or redubs, too short or treated like a “sound bite.”  Twelve years were spent filming, year-by-year, revealing actual growth of the actors, including his real-life daughter (with Christina Harrison).  Boyhood was difficult to write, piece by piece, direct and produce, on a tight budget, and Linklater does a decent job.  There have been films with multiple filming years, but not quite like this.

It stars Ellar Coltrane as the highly talented but barely disciplined Mason Jr.  In the opening scene, six-year-old Mason watches the sky, and tells his mother, Olivia (Arquette) that, “if you flick water into the air just right, it’ll turn into a wasp.”  His assignments are often incomplete, and his homework would be described by his teacher as “big, crumpled-up chunks at the bottom of his backpack.”

He gets quite a few gutterballs in life.  Mason and his older sister, Samantha , finally get to see their musician of a father, Mason Sr. (Hawke), back from Alaska.  “I wish we could use the bumpers,” the son says, landing the bowling ball in the left gutter.  The father responds, “Bumpers are for kids.  What are you, two years old?  You don’t want the bumpers.  Life doesn’t give you bumpers.”

The film is loaded with metaphors like that, as well as easter eggs.  A few of Linklaters relatives appear in the film.  (See the Cast above.)

The date at any given moment is never explicitly told.  Instead, signatures are used, including the Iraq war, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at a signing event, the kinds of phones used, and the music.  The children and the adults age as they would, and life’s struggles are never off the radar.  It doesn’t shy away from narcissism or domestic abuse.

Thankfully, the film’s politics are marginalized.  The pro-Obama woman had a dream of kissing Obama; and the anti-Obama man tells Mason, “This is private property; get off.  I could shoot you.”  And Dad gets the kids to steal the political yard signs.  His keys jangle as he moves quickly.

Of course, there’s a bit of “Dad-speak.”  Mason Sr. swears on occasion when talking to his kids; in one of the early scenes, Sam tells him, ‘that’s fifty cents for the f-bomb.’  And stepdad #2, Welbrock (Perella), in a string of drinkers that Mom brings home, teaches Mason and Randy (Villarreal) golf, and utters both “goddamn it” and “son of a bitch” when missing a hole.  It’s both funny and sad to see him drive to King Liquor, allegedly on a regular basis.

After pulling up, he says to the kids in the car, “This is just in case we have guests this weekend.”

As soon as the driver’s side door is shut, Randy tells Mason, “He always says that, but we never have guests.”

Randy blows a large gum bubble, and Mason pops it; the bubble deflates slowly.

Back home, Welbrock pours vodka into a plastic cup, with Sprite.  He then hides the bottle behind the detergent.

Linklater’s dialogue-dependent writing often surpasses the performances.  (This goes especially for the kids at their youngest.)  This is some of Linklater’s best writing.  Just the way the story’s cut together is both smooth and sharp, with obscurity for taste.  The scene where Mason gets his ‘kewl’ note from Nicole (Mechler) directly follows the one where Olivia is on the floor, crying, with Welbrock reentering the scene; most of his torso is obscured by the garage door, as he says, “Your mother had a little accident.”  There were warning signs.

But the movie rawness also made the film less visually real.  The actors could’ve been better fine-tuned in their performances to fit the scenes.  It’s a bit of a paradox that you have to extensively rehearse and reshoot to get the results right, while doing that you run the risk of losing emotional rawness.  Linklater wanted sort of a ‘raw balance’ there, but he chose not to push it, ‘playing it safe.’  (Not that he could with the budget he had.)

On what it manages to expose, I found it at times laid-back and self-centered as Mason can be.  (Personality will, however, distort one’s view of the past, so this is not unjustified.)  There’s some drug content and realistic adult dialogue, and a talk on contraception with the daughter, but there’s no catching the parents having sex or anything really embarrassing like that.  And there’s Coldplay’s Yellow, used in the opening scene; that song can ruin anything.  (To be fair, the song was popular.)  The script chooses to ignore some things that can’t be ignored if the goal was to develop a complete picture.  I would call to attention the childhood parts of Louie (FX), but the comparison might not be fair; every life is different.

There’s a unique and heartfelt touch to Boyhood, though.  Theoretically, it nails a few things.  No film has touched the long-exposure of life as this one has, a modern take at something rather old, such as watching the sky.  Linklater manages to put a lot of life into the picture, enough that it’s hard for his shy daughter, who plays Sam in the film, to watch.

Will it answer life’s questions or questions on childhood?  No, not by itself.  The film with its characters actually asks the viewer to think about those questions.  The father certainly can’t give an answer when Mason asks, entering adulthood, the point of life.  The father basically suggests ‘winging it,’ as he did.  And Olivia dives into midlife crisis/disillusionment when the nest empties.  But the film does answer some big questions, however always from the point of view of its characters.  Sheena (Graham) actually has to tell Mason that technology exists really to serve information not life.

The film tries not to force anything down the throat of the viewer, and that’s a plus.  It serves a humorous reminder—as opposed to a dark one—that life doesn’t have a point, but is instead filled with passing moments, sometimes with awkward smiles and laughs, and even some howling and whooping, and swimming, and a cute little girl that screams in joy at the Potter event.

“You know what, I’m going to be Mommy Monk.”

So much of the film is easy to watch for good reason.  Half of its 160 minutes will fly by before you know it.  Just like life.  The tone of the film changes from part to part, from childishness, to being shaken, to ‘being cool,’ to college.  It makes for a nice, poetic view at growing up.  And if you catch the secret at the end, you’ll be going, “Oh, man,” as I did.  The film might actually be deliberately long to hide its easter eggs.  You might as well buy it.  Grade: A.

Anatomy of a Scene

Approximately 52 mins. in, after Welbrock melts down (and yells “I hate squash!”), Mason is watching, on his laptop, The Landlord (2011), a Funny or Die video of Will Farrell dealing with a small toddler of a landlord (Pearl McKay).

“How many times can you watch that, Mason?” asks Samantha.

“It’s funny.”

“You know what, you need to relax,” Farrell says to Pearl in the video.

“I want my money!!!” Pearl screams in the video, with a subtitle.

“Has he ever gotten this bad before?” asks Mason, of Welbrock.

“No,” responds Randy.  “But he’s yelled a lot.”

“Yeah, but he hasn’t thrown and broken stuff,” Mindy adds.

The scene ends with Farrell telling Pearl, “you’re already drunk.”

Review: The End of the Affair


“What on Earth is a novelist?” asks Sarah.
“Research,” replies Maurice.  “On your husband.”

The End of the Affair

©1999 Global Entertainment Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Written, Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, 1992, Oscar® Winner)
Based on the 1951 novel by Graham Greene
Produced by Neil Jordan and Stephen Woolley
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Editor: Tony Lawson
Music: Michael Nyman
Running Time: 102 min.
Budget: $23 mn. (made back about half in U.S. domestic gross)
MPAA Rating: R (sexual content, nudity, some violence)
Reviewer Age Rating: 14+ (overall moderate/mild, no adult language)

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Juilianne Moore; Stephen Rae; Ian Hart; James Bolam; Jason Isaacs

Stephen Rae made his acting debut in Neil Jordan’s directorial debut, Angel (1982)

Synopsis

“This is a diary of hate,” Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) types on his typewriter as the story begins.  But we don’t know who he hates.  We suspect it is the husband he hates, as Bendrix weighs how much he loves Sarah Miles (Moore) based on his measure of jealousy.  Such jealousy to include her buttons, on all day; and her shoes, for walking away.

They’d fallen in lasting love.  There was a time he chased after her, made love to her, but the love affair lasted only as long as War World II remained active.

Henry (Rae), her husband, comes to suspect that his wife has a lover, but Bendrix and Miles never get caught, not even with the ‘bumbling but amiable’ Mr. Parkis (Hart).  As the war settles with a nearby bomb explosion and shattered glass, a promise is made.  The affair may end, but the love never does.  Reading Sarah’s diary, a result of the investigation he uses to his advantage, the mistaken Bendrix would chase her again after so much distance and time passed.

It is eventually disclosed whom he hates and blames in association as everyone loses a part of something.

The Hire

Bendrix does Henry’s bidding of hiring the investigator…reporting only to him.

“Are you intimate?” asks Mr. Savage (Bolam).

“No,” Bendrix lies.  “I’ve only seen her once since 1944,” he adds.

“I don’t understand.  You said this was a ‘watching’ case.”

“Can’t one…love or hate, long as that?”

“There’s nothing discreditable about jealously, Mr. Bendrix.  I always salute it as the mark of true love.”

“I’ve come on behalf of the husband.  He thinks she’s deceiving him.  ‘She has secrets.’”

“Ah, secrets.  Yes.”

“There may be nothing in it, of course.”

“In my experience, Mr. Bendrix…there almost invariably is.”

Take

The performances are good, with its Award winning/nominated cast.  There, I found no considerable flaws.  This is one of Fiennes’ better work that he appears more like a film character than as, well, a Fiennes character.  Moore is also fairly convincing.  The father-son relationship with the detective makes a nice, unexpected and growing touch rather than a distraction.

Jordan’s screenplay and direction, however, is a bit lacking in comparison to the novel.  While much of the film is solid with its dialogue and conveyed emotion, enough is missing that, in action, it comes off easy and simple, at least toward the end.  It charges with moments of passion, but it repeats a few sequences at length, filling time rather than detail.  In concept, it is a classic, with some strong and important points, but as far as watching it again I’m not sure what more I would get out of it.  Grade: B+.

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

As the song goes: “I…need to know now…can you love me again?

Edge of Tomorrow

©2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.;
in assoc. with Villiage Roadshow Pictures, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment;
a 3 Arts production
Exec. Producers: Doug Liman, Dave Bartis, Steve Mnuchin, Joby Harold, Hidemi Fukuhara, Bruce Berman
Producers: Erwin Stoff, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver, Gregory Jacobs, Jason Hoffs

Screenplay: Christopher McGurrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth;
based on the Novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Director: Doug Liman
Director of Photography: Dion Beebe (ASC, ACS)
Editors: James Herbert, Laura Jennings
Running Time: 113 minutes (includes some 7½ min. of credits)
Rated “PG-13” for action violence, some language

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton (Master Sgt. Farell), Brendon Gleeson, Noah Taylor (Dr. Carter), Kick Gurry (Griff), Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley (Nance), Jonas Armstrong (Skinner), Franz Drameh (Ford), Masayoshi Haneda (Takeda), and Tony Way (Kimmel)

Premise

Alien “mimics” invade Earth.

General Brigham (Gleeson) forces Major William Cage (Cruise), for the greater part a media personality, into a combat role; but first, he details the operation.

“Operation Downfall: the entire (world) United Defense Force, invading from France, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, relieving pressure on the eastern front, allowing the Russians and the Chinese to push back.  We all meet in the middle, eliminating this mimic scourge along the way.  A lot of good soldiers are going to die, tomorrow, Major.”

Little does Brigham—or anyone else—know that everyone will die by the way things are going.  But few do know there is a chance, getting to the heart of the matter, using the secret weapon of the mimics against themselves: the ability to reset a whole day of time—with it, gaining the element of surprise over “the enemy.”  Getting the blood of an Alpha mimic into one’s system enters one into their system.

William Cage is one of two known figures to get burned to death with an Alpha’s blood, in combat.  The other, Rita Rose Vrataski (Blunt), celebrated for her efforts at Verdun, little do the public know how she won the battle.  (And she’s yet to learn something else of it.)  Cage dies, and lives the routine repeatedly, starting at the point of being roused in handcuffs to undergo the “On your feet, maggot!” treatment as a Private.  Finally, he finds the few that know about the Omega device that resets the day.  And he begins to see the “visions” that they see, tapped into the system.

But when it comes to pain, the early stages of rewakening he relives is not the half of it.

Sense

The real pain comes when Cage finally finds Rita, and saves her life on the Island beach, that, reworking the day, he can only get so far with her; no matter the turns, the plots, the ways at which he plays this extensive game of Chess, the mimics are everywhere—hidden, buried, submerged.  He gets to know her, only to watch her die, over and over again.  So it’s like Groundhog Day, except war and pain instead of comedy.

Rita had her own morbid repeat with “Hendricks”—someone she knew:

“Is he why you won’t talk to me?” asks Cage, in the car.

“Don’t ever mention his name again,” Rita responds.

“Why?—Are you…in love with him?”

“—He’s dead.  And I watched him die three-hundred times, and I remember…every detail—I remember everything.  So I don’t need to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry,” he eventually apologizes.

“It’s just war,” she punctuates, right before the vehicle runs out of gas.

Eventually, Cage trudges through the agony, alone, before finding just how valid these so-called “visions” are.

Sci./Tech

The writers seem to know what they’re doing here—with the advanced weaponry, the technology both futuristic and plausible, and even the names.  But, unfortunately, the soldiers drop in, and…they never leave alive, and neither does the premise.

The downside to the science behind the premise of time travel, or mental/spiritual “rewind,” doesn’t quite work here, logically.  How can retracing the steps of matter from a future point of time, lead back to an earlier point without?  Beyond that murky argument, how would a blood transfusion ruin it?

Summary

Apart from the holes in the science, the obvious acting in the intro—which sets the actors apart from the newscasters, particularly with Gleeson’s appearance—and the “blow it up” solution for any a final target (as with Armageddon, which would, in fact, make things worse in reality), this has got to be one of the better movies I’ve seen.  It’s PG-13, but it sucks you in without having to demonstrate much.

This isn’t Starship Troopers.  The gun is literally turned on oneself.  Unfortunately, the previews don’t do this film justice.  The story conveys a suffering that tests endurance on another level, a mental demand that reminds its characters that they know little, and reminds the viewer of his/her mortality by the end.  Yes, it is one of those movies that says, learn and live.  And it doesn’t star Nicholas Cage.

I can’t say that this movie has as much depth as the other Cruise movie I’ve mentioned before—Oblivion.  But it does what a movie is supposed to do, following in the footsteps of films like The Matrix and Snowpiercer: immerse the audience in a dream.

The feature’s good enough to get me to want to read the novel, preferably in English.  Too bad the DVD rental doesn’t have feature commentary.  Grade: B+.

Review: Man of Tai Chi

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“You are nothing,” Donaka Mark says, to “Tiger” Chen.
“I am nothing,” responds Tiger, ready.

Man of Tai Chi

©2013 Universal Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, China Flim Co. Ltd.
Produced by Lenore Syvan and Daxing Zhang
Written by Michael G. Cooney
Director: Keanu Reeves
Action Director: Yuen Wo Ping
Director of Photography: Elliot Davis (Thirteen)
Editor: Derek Hui
Running Time: 105 minutes
Budget: est. $25 million U.S.
Rated “R” for violence
Stars: Tiger Chen Lin-Hu; Keanu Reeves (47 Ronin); Karen Mok; Yu Hai; Simon Yam; Ye Qing; and Iko Uwais as Gilang Sanjaya

Synopsis

In Keanu Reeves directorial debut, Tai Chi, a system of physical exercises utilized for meditation and self-defense, becomes a weapon of death when an underground kill-or-be-killed fight club emerges.  Tiger Chen, a student and public Wulin Cometition champ, is up to fight—not for personal gain, but in the effort to save Master Tang’s (Hai) historic temple that dates back some six hundred years or more.

By day, Donaka Mark (Reeves) runs a securities firm, Security System Alliance.  By night, he runs a pay-per-view death match.  And inspector Suen Jing Si (Mok) is on the case, against the wishes/orders of superintendent Wong (Yam).

Tiger is warned by his master not to blur the lines between power and control, but Tiger, corrupted by Donaka, holds on to the illusion.  He would come to find out that his life’s been under a microscope—hidden cameras everywhere.

Backstory Brief

The legendary Wo Ping worked his magic when stuntman Chen worked with Reeves for The Matrix (as Reeves’ trainer).  Years later, Chen came to Reeves on collaborating again, for this project.  Chen conveyed director Reeves as a man with a lot of homework, taking notes, to the total size of a large stack.

Over five years was spent in the making of this film, total.

Take

Geared toward a more general audience, the plot is simple, and the dialogue is short.  Almost all of the Chinese text has adjacent, in-film English translations.

The action is well-performed, and the acting is convincing, especially with Chen.  For Reeves, Donaka Mark is his most serious role to date, as a stone-cold psychopath, to the point of maniacally grinning while being punched in the face.

Elliot Davis performed his specialty in capturing the emotions of the characters, the sweetness between Chen and his paralegal love interest named Qing-Sha (Ye Qing), the response when Chen came to see that his opponents would nevertheless die, as a black-masked man would enter to “finish the job” with a snap of the loser’s neck.

The martial arts genre is partly known these days for fantastical/legendary feats, making use of wire effects for great scenes commonplace.  But I found the two big Chi moments unreal—as if (and as with The Matrix) you’re able to push people across the room with Chi energy without contact.  (Of all of the footage I’ve seen on extraordinary uses of Chi, contact’s always made—even with the “One Inch Death Punch,” as demonstrated in Stan Lee’s Superhumans, converging a host of body energy to one fist.)

Overall, this film brings a nice display of Tai Chi, but fails to really add anything else.  It pales in comparison to The Grand Master, which brought a number of forms of painstaking martial arts to the screen, with an intent of historical accuracy.  It was easier for the two lead male characters in Man of Tai Chi, already having years of experience.

That isn’t to say this film was easy to make.  But script-wise, its supporting characters are cliché, its plot is too simple and wrapped up too easily.  Grade: B-

Short Takes—Fun and Not So Fun

Adult World (2013)

Written by Andy Cochran; directed by Scott Coffey (who also stars as the store owner); produced by Alex Goldstone, Joy Gorman and Justin Nappi
Stars: Emma Roberts (Celeste and Jesse Forever), John Cusack (Perks of Being a Wallflower), Evan Peters

Synopsis

Amy Anderson (Roberts), an aspiring poet with little life experience, having racked up a load of college loan costs, is basically kicked out of the house by her parents; forced to find a job, her journey is severely limited by the fact that her only significant skill is: writing.  Amy reluctantly lands a job at a Mom-and-Pop adult bookstore.

Upon seeing one of her favorite writers, “Rat” Billings (Cusack) at a book signing, Amy eventually follows him, with the help of “Rubia” (Armando Riesco), to his house.  Obsessed and persistent, Rat gives in, in a way, accepting her as his protégé (but really, as his maid).  Things come unglued as Amy takes herself too seriously.

Take
The actors pull it off well.  It’s not as iconic as Perks…Wallflower, and it doesn’t do much as far as bringing original ideas to the table, but the execution is great.  Besides having a plot that doesn’t call for much, there’s nothing unappealing about this film in my mind.  “Amy” may be full of herself, but Emma Robberts makes her so damn cute!  You can’t help but like her.  (At least I did.)  Grade: B

Authors Anonymous (2014)

Written by David Congalton; directed by Ellie Kanner; produced by Kanner (EKZ) and Hal Schwartz; Cuoco and co-star Bennet also served as executive producers
Stars: Chris Klein (American Pie), Kaley Cuoco (Big Bang Theory), Teri Polo (Meet the Parents), Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck), Tricia Helfer, Jonathan Bennet and the late Dennis Farina (Law & Order)

Synopsis

A.A. is a comedy in the form of pseudo-documentary that starts with an unpublished writing support group, hosted by a married couple.  Hannah Rinaldi (Cuoco), a girl that had never read much or written, is accepted into the group.  Henry (Klein) has a crush on her.

Meanwhile, optician Alan Mooney (Walsh) appears to only put ideas into a memo recorder; his wife (“Colette”/Polo), an “aspiring writer,” can’t write.  Sigrid (Helfer), a German immigrant working at a hardware store, supports the delusional Tom Clancy wanna-be (and possible future husband) John K. Butzin (Farina) to the point of lying.

Bruised egos over substance, the group fails to take the news well when Hannah suddenly gets published and beyond.  Unrequited love, betrayal and resentment, drama and separation ensues.  It ends with a new angle on what the “documentary” is about.

Take
It starts off strong and real, but the plot unwinds in a scripted-comedic fashion; some of its elements, as the movie advances, are detailed or portrayed unconvincingly.  The film was obviously low-budget (an indie released in theaters April 18) and could’ve used more improv and less acting.  Grade: C+

Some Girl(s) (2013)

Screenplay by Neil LaBute; directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer.
Stars: Adam Brody, Jennifer Morrison (House), Emily Watson, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars).

Synopsis

A writer (Brody), published in a magazine for his realistic relationship stories, has actually been basing his stories on experience.  Now engaged to a young med student, he decides to ‘patch things up’ with his former relationships.

Multiple stops, second-hand smoke (“Tyler”/Mia Maestro) and a slap to the face (“Sam”/Morrison), as “Man” advances with each location, more is revealed about the guy, that there’s more than what meets the eye.

Take
Groan.  It’s acted well, and it comes off interesting, but I could tell it was written by one person, and a male at that, writing all the female dialogue.  The British wife (“Lindsay”), whose acquaintance with “Man” was an affair, despite Watson’s accent had much the same written dialogue as the American women, plus a “bloody.”

It’s contrived like a stage play because it’s based on LaBute’s 2005 play, with Reggie (Kazan in this film adaptation) having a final say with a kiss (that is a woman kiss).  Please.  Grade: B-

Red 2 (2013)

Written by Jon and Erich Hoeber; directed by Dean Parisot; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura.
Stars: Bruce Willis (Die Hard), John Malkovich (one of three producers, Perks…Wallflower), Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds), Helen Miren (Hitchcock), Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-hun Lee and Neal McDonough (Justified).

Synopsis

A hit is ordered on Frank & friends are set up and made out to be Nightshade participants, domestic terrorists.  They must fight for their lives, and…well, save the world.

Marvin Boggs (Malkovich) claims he, Frank Moses (Willis) and girlfriend Sarah Ross (Parker) are targets, and attempts to fake his own death.  Jack Horton (McDonough) interrogates Frank anyway.  So after being set up, the three, with targets on their backs, walk right into the setup, seek “The Frog” (David Thewlis), team up with their assassin and eventually break out the mad scientist (Hopkins, Jolygood!) behind the infamous and undetectable thermonuclear Red Mercury bomb.

Twists and turns, shots and explosions, jokes and gags, this “family friendly” sequel (PG-13) packs an f-bomb with its Red bomb, versus the R-rated original film adaptation inspired by the Red comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.

Take
116 minutes in running time, some of the not-so-high-quality movie moments could’ve been cut, especially the “Karma’s a bitch” line.  (Seriously?)  Some of the gags are unquestionably funny (e.g., Frank yelling at Marvin, “Stop cutting wires!”; Sarah running, shooting up a ceiling with a big smile on her face).  But the film is written mostly for its action, and its actors are tired.  There are so many stunts in the film that, in the credits, not only were the stunts separated by location, but the largest block of names is HUGE.

It’s fun to watch if you’ve the time to spare.  Grade: B

3 Days to Kill (2014)

Written by Luc Besson and Adi Hasak; directed by McG (Supernatural); produced by Besson and Hasak, Ryan Kavanaugh, Marc Libert and Virginie Silla.
Stars: Kevin Costner (The Upside of Anger), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Connie Neelson (Gladiator) and Amber Heard.

Description

A CIA agent (Costner) is informed that he has brain cancer, spreading to his lungs.  The agency dismisses him, but a woman (Heard) keeps him active as an assassin.  With the little time he has left to spend with family, he accepts a kill order.  His reward: a drug that could cure or delay his cancer, so he could spend Christmas with his wife and daughter.

Take
The film is detailed like a ludicrous comic book.  Why is it that a young, attractive woman hired this guy to do her dirty work?  Why a French albino as one of the lead villains?  And a Philanxifor-like drug to cure or abate the ex-agent’s cancer?  Magical.  An ear-splitting explosion, gun shots, an undeveloped backstory, a car chase… …Zzzzz.  You know it’s not very good when you start to ask: why was this made?  Grade: C

2013 and Recent Movies

Here’s another short list.  Because I’m out of time.  I turned 30, and I am ashamed.
…And for the somewhat Jackie Robinson biopic, w. Harrison Ford, the N-words kind of obscure the picture enough that I don’t know what to take away from it, other than hatred and death threats… something I already got.

Oblivion (2013)

One of the best movies of 2013, in my opinion.  (Not as influential as Dallas Buyers Club, which I’d finally seen last night, but Oblivion made history too.)

Starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough (the chameleon), Olga Kurylenko, Melissa Leo…  Set in the future, “Jack Harper” (Cruise) is sent out to make repairs to unmanned drones, but finds some really bizarre activity along the way.  Aliens?

As the plot unfolds, things only get stranger.  Freeman with a cigar, testing Harper… the writers keep you guessing until it’s revealed exactly what’s going on.  Without spoiling it, I’ll just say it involves clones.

A lot of reinvention was made for the sci-fi genre, against the blackness since Alien, this film dares fill the brightness of the sky, night and day with projection.

And quite literally— projection.  Stanley Kubrick’s idea, around 2001: A Space Odyssey, the method of recording and projecting them— all these mountainous environments, onto a platform screen.  Reflections in the eyes, practical lighting— like magic.

This film is so visually stunning, so remarkable that it’s worth buying on Blu-Ray.
Yes, I said it: buy it.

The Frozen Ground (2013)

Scott Walker spent quite some time writing this, trying to find the right movie, but finally landed on a quasi-documentary.  Nic Cage as an Alaskan detective, and John Cusack as a serial killer, in a real-life story, where the names of the people involved are altered, respectfully.

Cusack was forced to play his role realistically, how real serial killers behave: like normal people during the ‘daytime.’  Not a monster, but a person with a double life.

But ultimately, the girl (Vanessa Hudgens) stole the show.  Originally titled, “17,” the drive was her story, the actual woman now living a normal life, this dark past, helping put the killer away, far in the past.

Austenland (2013)

Keri Russell and some other name stars bring a somewhat silly dream to life: Jane Austen’s time and characters, with reenactment and little-to-no tolerance with modern life, in “Austenland.”

A huge fan, of the books, the realization in media, buying a life-size cutout of the big actor of the time playing one of the biggest Austen charaters… our lead spends a small fortune to get into Austenland, albeit the ‘cheaper’ ticket.

She grows tired, of course.  But in the end, something nice works out.

Don Jon (2013)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first time as writer/director/actor, this movie puts po rn addiction in the spotlight.  He’s unable to climax without visual stimulation.  Our lead character eventually falls, hard.  (No pun intended.)

The film also has an unexpected ending.  You’d think it’d be Scarlett, but no; she actually ends up being kind of the bad guy in this picture.  Manipulative and unforgiving, one slip up on delivering her demands = betrayal.  She has her own habit/addiction, to romance movies.

But in real life, Joseph is… mundane.  The movie turned out, in my opinion, a little corny.  It delivered the message, and it flashed its way of ‘true love,’ with faces almost merging together, Don and Esther (Julianne Moore) ‘becoming one.’  I’m sorry, but it sounds like starting and ending with fantasy.

Enough Said (2013)

James Gandolfini’s final film before his untimely death.  Julia L. Dreyfus plays a woman who accidentally has a relationship with both the guy and his ex-wife, not putting the puzzle together until late that she’s the ex’s massage therapist.

The film also co-stars Toni Collette, in her about-native Australian accent, as another masseuse in the biz.  Then there are the kids, some of the difficulties in life.

The movie kind of leaves you wanting more.

In A World… (2013)

Sort of a nod to the late Don LaFontaine, the voice artist who passed away some years ago, this fictional tale was crafted by Lake Bell, a.k.a., indecisive woman (Lucy) in No Strings Attached.

It’s… interesting.  It co-stars Fred Melamed, a.k.a., “Mr. creepy neighbor who’s porking your wife” from A Serious Man, for his deep voice.  It ends with Bell landing the job, and getting the guy.  Not to spoil it, I won’t say what job and what guy.

Short, Inspiring Book Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

What is inspiration?

inspiration (n.): Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling and activity.

I could just leave you with the dictionary’s definition of the term, or I could tell you about an inspiring book I had just finished reading during hurricane Sandy.

(first book cover)

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1987) is about a “big” thinker—a college student and a son in a Jewish mafia that is introduced by another man named Arthur, last name LeComte, to a different world.  Art would rather not follow in the footsteps of his father’s money laundering business, but doesn’t know just how related everyone is in this “new world.” And his father would bring Art to tears, despite the Winnie-the-Pooh-like voice.

Told in the first-person narrative, the reader gets little more than what Art sees at any given point; the background story is painted in drips and drabs, and the developing picture uses interesting imagery to build that whole, such as the “Cloud Factory” building.

The novel also avoids being overdramatic, as the web of relationships would become a bit sinister on one end, with the only-friend and motorcyclist Cleveland Arning breaking into people’s homes, and funny on the other, where Art once uses the flip of a coin to pick whom he wants to be with when a rather non-volatile love triangle forms with Lecomte and the “destined” girlfriend, Phlox Lombardi—the nurse that wears pearls, too much makeup and long painted fingernails that she would tap when nervous.

The writing is in no way gratuitous.  Offensive language is minimal and appropriate to its characters, and its sex is told in few words, even to the point of the brief all-in-one sentence; Art would even apologize for again noting his arousal.

With funny phrases at the beginning of chapters and big transitions in a few endings, in many ways the story is both a comedy and a tragedy.  One of the big characters dies in a fall, but I won’t spoil it by telling you which.  Being the one telling the story, Art calls his own account “exaggerated.”  Add to that the story’s realism, and you’d might think that this Art Bechstein could be a real person.

Summary

Told in three summer acts: the introductions and the wanting of a better summer; growing and getting wild; and finally, the seriousness of the criminal consequences.

Published in 1988, Mysteries is 297 pages of excellent writing, and a fun read that overcomplicates nothing. Involved, I also thought of how things could have been alternatively played at some points only to find, with details not yet surfaced, such changes would instead cause harm.  The story is delicate, and maybe too good to be improved, given its limited setting.

About the Author

Award-winning Michael Chabon has written essays, teleplays/screenplays, short stories, and novels, and this would be his first.  His other novels include Wonder Boys (also made into a film), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and co-wrote the screenplay for Spider-Man 2.  Mysteries was originally written for his U-CA Irvine master’s thesis.  His newest book, Telegraph Avenue, came out this summer.

Adaptation

A film adaptation was finally made in 2009, after Chabon’s failed attempt in 2000.  It stars Jon Foster as Art, Nick Nolte as Joe (the father), Mena Suvari as Phlox, Peter Sarsgaard as Cleveland, rather the bisexual combination of Cleveland and Lecomte as the gay Arthur Lecomte was completely removed in the screenplay.