Thursday, May 19, 2011

BEAUTY AT THE BOTTOM: a review of "Everything Must Go"

Based upon the short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” by Raymond Carver
Written For The Screen and Directed by Dan Rush
*** ½ (three and a half stars)

What a pleasure it has been to go to the movies as of late!!! For so many years, I have lamented repeatedly that I wished film studios would actually release strong material throughout the entire year instead of waiting until November and awards season. Although this year in cinema is still young, I have just been so pleasantly impressed and excited about going to the movies as Joe Wright’s kinetic, psychedelic thriller “Hanna,” Kenneth Branagh’s terrific “Thor,” Miguel Arteta’s charming “Cedar Rapids” and of course, Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s excellent “Bridesmaids” all ranked highly for me. All of those films tried their best, exceeded expectations, offered unique and fresh cinematic takes on tried and true material (assassins, superheroes, the fish out of water and R rated adult comedies) that dangerously runs the risk of becoming clichéd or losing luster due to over exposure.

This afternoon, I was blessed with yet another very strong release as I screened Director Dan Rush’s “Everything Must Go,” an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story and featuring a rare dramatic performance from Will Ferrell. It was a quiet, nuanced, deeply perceptive, intelligent film that deftly avoided falling into any clichéd holes of histrionics and false sentiment. “Everything Must Go” beautifully exceeded expectations and it comes highly recommended to you!

Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, who at the start of “Everything Must Go,” is having an awful day. A once respected and profitable career salesman, Nick’s downward spiral continues as he is fired for yet one more alcoholic induced disaster. After pitifully flattening the tire of his boss with the Swiss Army knife given to him as part of his severance package and purchasing cases of beer, Nick arrives to his home to find that his wife has left him and all of his possessions are scattered throughout his front lawn. Nick is soon unable to access his finances, and his company car is repossessed, leaving him without funds or the ability to find a place to stay. Drunkenly setting up shop on his lawn in his favorite recliner, Nick drinks himself to sleep and is woken each morning by the blast of the sprinkler.

After being visited by his sponsor Detective Frank Garcia (Michael Pena), who informs Nick that having all of his property publicly placed upon his front lawn is illegal and must be dealt with immediately, Nick reluctantly takes Frank’s suggestion of holding a yard sale.

Over a period of three days and nights, Nick sluggishly attends to his yard sale and continues to drink heavily. Yet, even while hitting a personal rock bottom, hope arrives in two tentative friendships he makes. The first with the young Kenny (played sensitively by Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of The Notorious B.I.G.), a lonely latch-key kid whom Nick enlists as a business partner (and also utilizes his bicycle for transportation). The second is Samantha (the terrifically understated Rebecca Hall), a new arrival to the neighborhood, pregnant and wearily awaiting the arrival of her businessman husband.

Like the best short stories, “Everything Must Go” is a film that effortlessly packs large, complex themes into a small and easily digestible package. Rush’s direction is completely confident and sure-footed, knowing exactly what information to dole out to the audience and when, making for a story that resonates emotionally as well as existing as a concise piece of storytelling. We are firmly established in Nick’s world, problems and mindset from the film’s opening moments and he holds us in his grasp, with an unforced cinematic hand all the way to the conclusion, which features an image that is perfectly elegiac.

Will Ferrell, who has already demonstrated in Marc Forster’s literary, existential fantasy “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006) that he can more than effectively handle non-comedic roles, gives an excellent dramatic performance. Filled with subtleties, layers, and shadings, Ferrell is no crying clown and avoids the type of maudlin clichés that have occasionally derailed a talent as unquestionably immense as Robin Williams’, notably with his more undisciplined saccharine work in Tom Shadyac’s “Patch Adams” (1998) or Chris Columbus’ “Bicentennial Man” (1999). Ferrell’s performance recalled for me the work of Bill Murray in Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” (2005) or most notably Michael Keaton’s blistering work as a recovering addict in Glenn Gordon Caron’s “Clean and Sober” (1988).

Large sections of “Everything Must Go” are essentially a one-man show as Will Ferrell compellingly holds our attention and draws us deeply into his alcoholic haze. He is so skilled that we are able to witness the minuscule degrees of his inebriation and soberness. His scenes with Christopher Jordan Wallace are almost painfully bittersweet as they play catch, confess buried fears and share an isolation that somehow connects them despite the differences between their ages, races and backgrounds. Their final scenes truly ache with a certain fragility concerning the future and the parts they may or may not play within each other’s lives.

Furthermore, his scenes with Rebecca Hall contain palpable tension they can read each other instantly yet dance around treacherous subject matter because what they may say about each other will expose truths about themselves to themselves.

Beyond being the story of a man trying to make sense of the shambles his life has become through holding a cathartic yard sale, “Everything Must Go,” at its core, is a film about the destructive nature of alcoholism. In many ways, this film went down dark avenues in the very fashion that Writer/Director Tom McCarthy’s “Win Win,” another drama with comedic elements and thematic storm clouds, seemed to be afraid to travel and I greatly appreciated the effort. It made the film feel more honest and considerably less sugar coated and tidy. “Everything Must Go” is a film meant to open some wounds.

A wonderful extended sequence features a terrific Laura Dern as a barely remembered high school classmate who once wrote a flirtatious comment in Nick’s Senior yearbook. The combined performances of Dern and Ferrell spoke volumes about life’s disappointments when two people who once possessed such promise and held big dreams have emerged into middle age with crushing failures, slowly realizing they did not turn into the people they had once wished to become. One is a divorced, single Mother and failed actress while the other is an unemployed drunk yet where each of them continue from this point all comes down to the power of choice and resilience. Rush has crafted an untidy, uncomfortable sequence with exquisite poignancy.

Yes, the movies theaters are about to become extremely crowded with one MAJOR release after another but I do highly recommend that you seek this film out if it is playing in your area. “Everything Must Go” is a small jewel of a film about how we carry and discard the excess baggage of all of our lives, discovering levels of personal redemption in the process. Mostly, it not only empathetically depicts the act of how we fall but also the baby steps we take to uncover the Herculean resolve that is necessary to rise again.

For those of you in Madison, this film is playing exclusively at Sundance Cinemas.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

LADIES NIGHT: a review of "Bridesmaids"

A Judd Apatow Production
Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristin Wiig
Directed by Paul Feig
**** (four stars)

Now this is how you get the job done!!

“Bridesmaids,” the latest movie from filmmaker Judd Apatow’s creative compound is a grand slam! Not only does the film feature the creative reunion between Apatow and Director Paul Feig, who previously collaborated on the brilliant and disappointingly short lived television series “Freaks and Geeks,” it is also a creative and comedic triumph for “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kristin Wiig. In addition to co-writing the screenplay, Wiig delivers a top notch, multi-layered, hysterical and heartbreaking performance that never strikes even one false note. She is in such command of her gifts, so empathetic and honest that the richness of her work deserves to be remembered during awards season. Yes, dear readers, I said it…awards season! The film is indeed this good and Kristin Wiig is a force to be reckoned with.

For all of the talk and advertisements that suggest “Bridesmaids” is essentially a female version of “The Hangover” (2009) is to give this film short shrift as it firmly stands upon its own cinematic feet. “Bridesmaids” bests “The Hangover” and most modern day comedy films hands down, and in fact, it puts them all to shame. It goes the extra mile through the seemingly simple act and artistry of devoting its time and energy to developing strong storytelling and realistic characters without even one wacky romantic comedy plot in sight. When Apatow is on his game, he and his troupe are unstoppable and “Bridesmaids” confidently sails to the heights of his prolific production crop.

Kristin Wiig stars as Annie Walker, a Milwaukee, WI woman in early middle age caught within a downturn in the trajectory of her life. Once the owner of a bakery called “Cake Baby,” now closed due to the economic recession, Annie now petulantly works behind the counter at a jewelry store selling engagement rings to happy couples and “Best Friends Forever” necklaces to snotty high school girls. Her car is essentially on life support, she shares an apartment with a bizarre, sideshow ready British brother and sister and engages in occasional aggressively acrobatic yet empty sexual trysts with the wealthy, uncaring and obnoxiously vein Ted (Jon Hamm).

The one element in her life, at this stage, that elicits any happiness is her lifelong friendship with Lillian Donovan (Maya Rudolph). The day after yet another miserable night with Ted, Annie and Lillian swap stories and share the very laughs that have built and sustained their friendship since childhood. Soon thereafter, Annie receives an emotional shock as Lillian has become engaged to longtime boyfriend Doug (Tim Heidecker). Of course, Lillian strongly desires Annie to be her Maid Of Honor, a role to which Annie agrees despite her fears that this event will be the beginning of the end of their friendship.

As wedding preparations begin to mount, Annie meets the remainder of Lillian’s bridal party, which includes: Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a sharp-tongued woman who detests her marriage and children; Becca (Ellie Kemper), a chirpy newlywed who pities Annie’s single status; Megan (Melissa McCarthy), a forthright, blunt and sexually adventurous woman who is also Doug’s sister; and Helen Harris (Rose Byrne), the gorgeous, wealthy and unctuous trophy wife of Doug’s boss and Annie’s soon to be arch nemesis for the grand prize: Lillian’s “best” friendship.

While all of Lillian’s pre-wedding events disastrously fall apart due to Helen’s covert one-upmanship, nearly every element of Annie’s life implodes due to her mounting insecurities. But maybe one aspect of her life is beginning to look up as Annie gradually begins to form a romance with Officer Nathan Rhodes (a charming Chris O’Dowd), the Irish State Trooper who pulled her over for a broken taillight on her journeys between Wisconsin and the uber wealthy land of northern Illinois.

Despite the fact that true love with the kindly trooper looms, Annie is consumed with the painful realization that life is rapidly passing her by, and worst of all, the potential of losing Lillian to her new emotionally (and financially) stable life forever.

As with the majority of Judd Apatow’s productions and his own directorial efforts, “Bridesmaids” is a cheerfully vulgar and raucous experience filled to the brim with salty language and outrageous sequences-including one already infamous section involving the unfortunate mash-up of a bridal fitting with food poisoning. But, as with the very best of Apatow’s productions and his directorial efforts, “Bridesmaids” has so much more on its mind than four letter words, gross-out jokes and shallowly proving that women can throw down just as effectively as men in the adult R rated comedy genre. “Bridesmaids” has a true story to tell, with richly developed, three-dimensional characters that builds into a hugely warm experience that was surprisingly (and deeply) moving.

Judd Apatow has received much criticism that his films tend to run about 15-30 minutes too long. But as the late great Gene Siskel and the still great Roger Ebert have expressed time and again, no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short. Truth be told, I have seen more than my share of 90-minute films that feel three times as long while “Bridesmaids,” which has a running time of two hours and five minutes, was a film I could have easily viewed even another hour. The film left me with the same feeling I had at the conclusion of Apatow’s “Knocked Up” (2007), as I had loved that film’s collective of characters so much. I loved listening to them talk. I loved seeing their lives and how they viewed themselves and the world in which they lived and I was sad to see the end credits begin to scroll as I just wanted even more.

“Bridesmaids” is a film that deeply loves its characters and it works diligently to weave a tapestry that ensures an audience would love to spend time with these women just as much as the filmmakers did. I appreciate how Apatow encourages collaboration, all the way to supporting his actors to write for themselves, just as Jason Segal performed with his excellent screenplay for Nicholas Stoller’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008). I also greatly appreciate how Apatow, Feig, Wiig and the remainder of the cast and crew understand that comedy is not always about the jokes and how comedy is greatly informed by the characters and how well we know and relate to those characters. I especially loved how Feig allowed his scenes to play at length, a tactic which allowed the social discomforts to stretch to their limits. What begins politely delves into awkwardness, slides into muttered and subtle acts of passive-aggressiveness and then explodes into excruciating hilarity.

For all of the talk that aforementioned food poisoning sequence is going to receive, for me, the film’s tour de force is the extended section where Lillian and her bridesmaids are all travelling to Las Vegas…with Annie in Coach while everyone else rides in First Class. The sequence not only extends the rivalry between Annie and Helen, which in turn increases Lillian’s discomfort. It gives time to the other women in the bridal party to strut their stuff, broadening and deepening their characters in the process.

And how about the women! The characters of “Bridesmaids” all feel authentic. They say and do and feel the very things that women say and do and feel in the real world. They all even look like real women and not like the glossy, prefabricated and so-called “Real Housewives” of reality television. These characters do not exist as plastic sitcom characters either as their motivations are grounded in reality, a trait that makes them all relatable-a quality that I would not have to mention if it were not such a rarity. Even Melissa McCarthy, who emerges as the ROCK STAR of this film, has moments of pure depth and darkness that feels real and transcends what could have been a part designed to show her off as the “funny fat girl.”

While it is a progression for Apatow to finally oversee a film that is driven by women, especially in a genre that is historically male driven, it should not really come as much of a surprise as his female characters typically are not relegated to the sidelines in his work. The women from his television series and films are always integral to the plot. In fact, the male characters of his productions and films are clearly defined by the women they choose to love, to date, to have children with and to marry. The men are defined by the very women they are infatuated with, mystified by and terrified of. I loved how “Bridesmaids” leapt over every cliché of the romantic comedy genre which typically creates films with despicable female characters like the ones found in “The Proposal” (2009) or even Director P.J. Hogan’s 1997 smash hit “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (which I loathed). While Annie and Helen are spiteful and horrible to each other, the women in “Bridesmaids” are not fighting over a man. They are fighting over a friend, being relevant to someone else’s life and increasing their own shaky sense of self-worth.

Annie Walker is a leading character to sympathize with and understand even when the film is highly critical of her behavior. She is no saint but we want for her to succeed simply because we are so in tune with her sense of disappointment, her fears of being left behind, left out and ultimately forgotten by the one person who means the most to her. Kristin Wiig’s performance is pitch perfect and it injects the film with a proper amount of profound melancholy, especially in a short scene where she allows herself to bake cupcakes, even though it is a blatant reminder of the life she once fought for and was taken away. Annie Walker is not only fighting to retain her best friend. She is fighting the future itself. She is fighting the forced change that hits all of us, whether we want it to or not and within her terrified resistance, lies the enormous comedy that allows the audience to laugh instead of become a puddle of tears. It is a true balancing act that succeeds and through her wonderful performance and clear-eyed writing, we are able to see that “Bridesmaids” is a love story. It is a love story to female friendships and discovering a sense of perseverance when all obstacles are stacked against you.

At its core, “Bridesmaids” is a film about failure, envy, jealousy, competition, self-loathing, insecurity, class warfare, the clash of the person you once were and the person you are becoming and how it relates to another’s personal evolution. It is about how a Wilson Phillips song two friends once shared is more meaningful in middle age than it was during adolescence. It is a film about the tenuous nature of friendship and the struggle of how we remain friends as we age. And to think, we can get all of this plus have the comedy that is legitimately and riotously funny.

Two years ago in my reviews of “The Hangover,” I wrote the following:

“Here’s an idea. Let’s shake up the genre. Get Rachael Harris, Leslie Mann, Amy Poehler and Kristin Wiig together. Get Tina Fey to write it with her trademark savage humor. I would love to see what they could do with that kind of a hangover.”

Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and the marvelous Kristin Wiig have more than shaken up the genre. They have raised the bar.

“Bridesmaids” is one of my favorite films of 2011.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Written by Phil Johnston
Directed by Miguel Arteta
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

I have to admit that I am a creature of habit. I am not one that particularly enjoys stepping outside of my personal comfort zones. I like my routines. I like the ways that I am able to navigate the city in which I live. I have my favorite haunts to frequent. I am actually a bit of a picky eater as well, so I feel more than happy just dining on the meals that have satisfied me tremendously at the restaurants I love, and if I find a truly favored selection, I’ll tend to stick with it and not focus on terribly much else from the menu. I enjoy seeing familiar people in familiar places so much that any changes do tend to unnerve me to varying degrees. For so much of my life, people have always expressed to me that “change is good.” But as far as I am concerned, it truly depends on who is precipitating the change. Now, just so you do not all feel that I am a stick in the mud at best and completely inflexible at worst, trust me, I do know, understand and accept that change is part of life and living and the development we all experience. Sometimes, I truly embrace it. But I guess that when I understand and know what I am going to experience, then why make a change? I like it how I like it when I like just because that’s the way (uh huh, uh huh) I like it.

I am giving you a peek into my particular brand of neuroses because I can kind of understand a man like Tim Lippe, the leading protagonist in Director Miguel Arteta’s charming, raunchy and perceptive social comedy “Cedar Rapids.” He is a man so ingrained with the routines, faces and places of his life that forced change would not only be a good experience for him. It is highly necessary.

Tim (played innocently by Ed Helms) is an idealistic and naive insurance agent in the small town of Brown River, WI. He adores his profession, his life in the only town he has ever lived as his clandestine “pre-engagement” relationship with Marcy Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), the schoolteacher he once had a lusty crush upon in Middle School. After his highly popular colleague perishes in what appears to be an act of erotic asphyxiation, Tim is called upon by his boss Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), to represent their insurance company at the annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, IA and obtain the highly coveted Two Diamond award for the fourth consecutive year.

Like a baby bird forced to leave the nest, Tim nervously begins his journey into the world as he experiences his first airplane ride, his first visit to a hotel room, and even his first experience with an African-American in the form of Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), his hotel roommate, fellow insurance agent and huge fan of HBO’s “The Wire.” Soon after his arrival, Tim is befriended and enormously distracted by two more convention veterans; the comely Joan Ostrowski-Fox (a wonderful Anne Heche) and the outrageously lewd, crude and perpetually drunk Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), the very salesman Tim’s boss instructed him to avoid at all costs.

Through a series of convention events like an “Amazing Race” themed scavenger hunt and extracurricular activities with all manner of drinks, drugs and debauchery, Tim is confronted with the world outside of his fishbowl perceptions as his ideals and personal integrity are challenged at every step. It is a three day period of change he never anticipated but becomes the difficult, challenging, transitional time that he will never forget.

“Cedar Rapids” is a succulent comedic treat that easily puts to shame so many comedy films being released currently. There is just so much to adore about this little movie as it accomplishes all it sets out to do in a fashion that feels effortless. Arteta conducts the proceedings with a fresh and playful comedic tone that is established immediately and remains consistent throughout. The pace is appropriately energetic and never crashes into the types of conceptual speed traps that tend to derail most comedies, making for unfortunate lengthy periods of uncomfortable silences in the movie theater that the filmmakers never intended. Most of all and most importantly, Arteta understands that to make his comedy work at its finest is solely through story, characters and performances. With Phil Johnston’s excellent screenplay, two thirds of Arteta’s job have already been masterfully accomplished as the constantly crackling dialogue and character development elevates “Cedar Rapids” from simple jokes and gags into a real story about a man’s transformative period and the growing pains contained within.

I will admit that in the first moments of the film I was a tad worried that Ed Helms’ performance as Tim Lippe would be more of a caricature of a small town inhabitant rather than an actual character but he fully won me over shortly thereafter in a post-coital sequence with Sigourney Weaver's character of Marcy. As they lay in bed together cuddling, Tim confesses the lustful thoughts he carried for her during his pre-teen years. Afterwards, he asks if she carried any similar feelings for him all of those years ago, to which she glances at him sideways and dryly explains, “You were 12.” It was a cringe worthy moment, not for any inappropriateness but for the fact that Tim Lippe is so open hearted, so “heart on sleeve” as a romantic in his thoughts of love, as well as his worldview, that I just didn’t want to see this man get emotionally wounded. What is simply a tryst for Weaver’s character is a fully sweeping romantic love affair for Tim and that very divide between them also represented the divide between Tim's view of the world and how the world actually is.

Cedar Rapids, IA is the place where the real world and the world in Tim’s head and heart collide, with sometimes painful and often hysterical results. While we in the audience can laugh at the fact that Tim initially has absolutely no idea that Brie (Alia Shawkat), the sweet faced girl who daily stations herself outside of the hotel asking patrons for cigarettes is actually a prostitute, Arteta always and humanely makes certain that Tim is never the butt of the joke. In doing so, Arteta makes certain that the film is on Tim’s side, ensuring that the audience will root for him and his overall happiness.

That particular pursuit of happiness is nestled at the core of the film as “Cedar Rapids” has its characters ask hard questions of themselves concerning the respective trajectories of their lives. The film finds the time and opportunity to tap into a certain melancholy, which greatly enriched the proceedings as a whole by making these characters grounded in reality, especially when their antics grow more raucous.

John C. Reilly is terrifically boorish as Dean Ziegler as his endlessly loud chatter, peppered with one vulgar euphemism after another, is the film’s hilarious showstopper. His salesman character reminded me of the awkward, wayward social misfits played beautifully by John Candy in John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987) and even John Goodman’s murderous traveling salesman in The Coen Brothers’ haunting “Barton Fink” (1991). What made Reilly’s character one to celebrate and follow was the undercurrent of this strange, rude and highly unsophisticated man. Through Arteta’s unforced cinematic hand, we are shown just enough of Dean Ziegler’s private hurt, making him someone we can understand and not simply to laugh at. We understand his constant status of inebriation and his need to be the life of the party. Most impressively, we see that Dean Ziegler is a man who is also remarkably self aware as well as surprisingly loyal. He is the person you most want to avoid but he is also the person you would most want to be in your corner.

For me, the standout performance in this film belonged to Anne Heche, who like Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in Jason Reitman’s “Up In The Air” (2009), created a realistic 21st century woman, the type of which is rarely on display in the movies. To me, her character of Joan Ostrowski-Fox was the most provocative of the film’s heroic quartet. She can easily keep comedic pace with the bad boys through her own rapidly uttered sexually themed comments. She possesses a dark allure that can spring from bewitching flirtatiousness to unbridled and unexpected carnality. Yet, Joan Ostrowski-Fox also carries a sweetness that enraptures Tim, as well as the audience. Again, Arteta realizes that he needs to keep the audience on her side and it would serve the film no purpose than to just have her function as a sexual object or as a potty mouth. So when she matter-of-factly reveals to Tim her own private dissatisfaction with her life and how that secret sadness contributes to her deeply rooted need to have her annual insurance retreat weekend, it informed all of her motivations so clearly and so truthfully that at times, I wanted to see an entire movie about her!

Anne Heche (who I must say has never been this fetchingly attractive in the movies thus far) completely captivated me with the richness she gave to Joan Ostrowski-Fox. If Tim Lippe was the heart of this film then Joan was the film’s sexy and sorrowful soul. I know it won’t happen but I sincerely wish for Heche to be remembered at Oscar time for her work in this film. She’s that good.

For many years, I have fretted about how strong films need to be released throughout the entire year and not just during the winter holiday/awards season. I have been so pleased with many of the 2011 releases I have seen this year and “Cedar Rapids” is another strong film to add to the list. With the onslaught of major summer releases beginning to stampede into or movie theaters, I urge you to seek this film out as well. It is funny, knowing, hugely entertaining and entirely successful without utilizing any gimmicks or high concepts to appeal to mass audiences. Just good old fashioned storytelling with strong characters and performances. I know that I have been expressing this sentiment for quite some time, but if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.

And with all of this talk about forced change, I am defiantly proud to say that my personal habit of enjoying movies based on storytelling and characters is one that will never change.

Monday, May 9, 2011

THE JERK: a review of "The Green Hornet"

Screenplay Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Based upon “The Green Hornet” created by George W. Trindle and Fran Striker
Directed by Michel Gondry

* 1/2 (one and a half stars)

You know, when you have to get all the way to the end credit graphic designs to finally find something interesting in a movie, then it has undoubtedly been quite the slog of a movie going experience.

This past weekend, I happened to view both Kenneth Branagh’s terrific adaptation of Marvel Comics’ “Thor” and Director Michel Gondry’s hugely disappointing adaptation of “The Green Hornet” within a day of each other and the difference in quality is further confirmation of the extreme difficulty that exists when trying to make films of the superhero genre work successfully. It is a genre that has long received a unfortunately tremendous lack of respect and in many cases, I can understand why. In short, for every towering achievement like “Superman II” (1981) or “The Dark Knight” (2008), we are more than likely to receive poorly written, badly acted, weakly executed, special effects dependant material. Even a filmmaker of Sam Raimi’s talents struggled supremely with all three of his “Spider-Man” films with only “Spider-Man 2” (2004) emerging as the unquestionable grand slam.

In regards to “The Green Hornet,” I have to admit that I was more than a little curious. While my knowledge of this character was decidedly limited in comparisons to other comic book characters, the thought of Seth Rogen interpreting this material was intriguing. I had hoped that he would provide a fresh take within a genre that dangerously runs the risk of overstaying its welcome or becoming clichéd. While I certainly will not question Rogen’s commitment to the material, especially as he had been trying to get this project off the ground for some time, and I do appreciate the artistic risk, it was sadly all for naught as the film turgidly spun its creative wheels.

Rogen stars as 28-year-old spoiled brat Britt Daniels, son of the crusading journalist and Los Angeles newspaper publisher James Daniels (played by Tom Wilkinson). To call the relationship between Father and son “contentious” would be an understatement. James’ uncompromising work ethic and strict belief system has led Britt to feel himself to be a life-long failure, a role he petulantly and publicly plays into at James’ expense. Britt’s conflicted feelings towards his Father are brought into the forefront of his life as never before after a fatal bee sting kills James Daniels. Grief stricken, Britt absently takes over control of his father’s newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, along with veteran Managing Editor Mike Axford (Edward James Olmos). Britt also fires the entire staff of his mansion, save for the maid and Kato (Jay Chou), James’s personal mechanic, technical wizard, martial arts master…and exceptional coffee maker.

Meanwhile, the city’s crime wave is escalating with the increased efforts of Russian gangster Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), whose pursuit and elimination of all criminal competition had been under scrutinous investigation by James Daniels before his untimely passing. Wanting to redeem himself, Britt strikes upon the idea of becoming a masked vigilante, albeit in the duplicitous guise of a dangerous new criminal named The Green Hornet, and convinces Kato to join forces with him. Utilizing The Daily Sentinel to advertise their exploits, Britt and Kato hope to enrage the increasingly paranoid Chudnofsky and eventually bring him to justice. With the unwitting aid of the beautiful new secretary and Criminology expert Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), Britt and Kato conceive and execute their illegal exploits with the hopes of attaining retribution and redemption.

I have to admit that “The Green Hornet”’ starts well as the first 20-25 minutes sets up the story quickly, cleanly and is fused with some well placed and well timed bits of Seth Rogen’s brand of laconic, smart aleck humor. Where the film began to lose me was during the sequence when Britt and Kato engage in their first mission when they arrive upon a young couple who are being harassed by a group of thugs and potential rapists. Aside from the subsequent car chase scene which engages in all sorts of explosions, one of which I wondered fatally injured a responding police officer, thus negating anything heroic Britt and Kato could have achieved, it just set the film, as a whole into a tired, one-note rhythm from which it just never recovered for me.

“The Green Hornet” is an action comedy but the comedy is essentially relegated to one joke: Kato is the brains and brawn of this entire operation and Britt Daniels is a manipulative, egomaniacal jerk who receives all of the notoriety and credit. This joke is not just part of this movie. It is the movie and I’m sorry, unless the dialogue is truly crackling, the characters are supremely written and the action is executed to perfection, that joke only goes so far and Gondry and Rogen beat it to death and then some. Which is just a shame as I was honestly excited to see what a director of Michel Gondry’s skills and talents could bring to the table.

Just take a moment and think back to Gondry’s past work. The painfully romantic head trip of “Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind” (2004); the euphoric documentary chronicle of a community's ability to produce a free outdoor hip-hop concert in “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” (2005); the ambitious art house dream world of “The Science Of Sleep” (2006) and even the subversively moving ode to the life of a neighborhood and joy of moviemaking in “Be Kind Rewind”(2008).

Michel Gondry has a startling talent of somehow injecting his personal style and visual inventiveness into a film while always staying out of the way of the project’s stars and subject matter. I guess that with “The Green Hornet,” he did achieve his usual standard inasmuch as he stayed out of Seth Rogen’s way considerably. Furthermore, this project was not of his conception in the first place so, what could I have expected? That said, the film easily contains the glossiest sheen of all of Gondry’s work thus far, and its slickness seems to go against Gondry’s scruffier and more handmade aesthetics. It’s a shame when you take the unique filmmaking talents of Michel Gondry and have him utilized as an impersonal director for hire and I cannot help but to wonder how much studio involvement there was in streamlining his unusual technique inorder to attain box office success.

Aside from those ponderings I just feel that this film’s “Achilles’ Heel” is Seth Rogen. As he co-wrote the screenplay with his writing partner Evan Goldberg and served as the film’s Executive Producer, “The Green Hornet” is decidedly his baby yet the final result is surprisingly thin. There’s just not much to this movie and at many points, it seemed as if Rogen and Goldberg essentially re-wrote their screenplay for “Pineapple Express” (2008) as basic plot points, action scenes, deaths of villains, an endlessly bombastic climax and even aspects of comedic tone concerning the film’s villains are exactly the same yet with the stoner humor dialed down. Christoph Waltz, for instance, just plays the same villain that Gary Cole played in “Pineapple Express,” sadistically violent but with some oddball comic edginess (Waltz’s character is always concerned that he’s losing his criminal edge due to his name and wardrobe) that never really congeals successfully.

Additionally and conceptually, there is just nothing redeemable about the character of Britt Daniels. He is an idiot, a coward and a blowhard and never elevates from that state. Perhaps this is Rogen’s subversive take on the entire superhero genre. What if the hero possessed absolutely no virtuous qualities? OK. That’s an interesting take. But, parody or not, Britt Daniels is still a boorish oaf and it made the film increasingly insufferable to sit through. Maybe this reaction to this character is a tad less to do with the writing and mostly because Seth Rogen is not much of an actor…yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of Seth Rogen and his work as one of Judd Apatow’s reparatory players has been consistently terrific. Of course, Rogen is essentially playing the same character over and over and finding different shadings of which to play them. His acting is always a variation of a theme and he does it very, very well. And while I am certain he knows he just is not the type to be a conventional action hero, it seems that he really wants to be that action hero regardless (and more power to him). If his idea of having the character of Britt Daniels be subversive or at least a character that is shrewd enough to keep the audience guessing as to his true motivations and beliefs, Rogen just isn’t very strong. He doesn’t yet have the skill that Robert Downey Jr. shows as Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” movies, for instance. Stark’s heroic nature is always something for us to question. Is he noble or are his exploits solely existing to fuel his massive ego? Downey Jr. is masterful and he makes it all look so effortless as well as being more than convincing at being an action hero.

Rogen is not effortless in projecting that suave, ironic, “devil may care” attitude that Downey Jr. Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray are kings at within films that blend comedy, action, drama and special effects. I just found his knowledge at his own lack of skills translated into an on-screen nervousness that just made him talk, talk, talk, talk, talk and talk some more. It was incredible to me to see that Seth Rogen who spent much of the beautiful television series “Freaks and Geeks” rarely speaking and now he is in a film where he NEVER shuts up!

Dear readers, while I just did not like this film at all, it was, at least, a film that tried. It wasn’t lazy and I didn’t feel as if the faceless Hollywood suits stole from me. It was just a project that didn’t work for me one bit.

I do applaud Seth Rogen’s desire to change the face of action comedy films, if only a little bit. But “The Green Hornet” just failed to hit the mark.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH: a review of "Thor"

Story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich
Screenplay Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne
Based upon the Marvel Comics series created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
***1/2 (three and a half stars)


The Summer Movie Season of 2011 has officially begun and thankfully, with an enormously entertaining and exciting film that succeeds grandly. And not a moment too soon. Just at the point when I am growing even wearier at the thought of potentially sitting through one more costumed superhero movie and their origin story which predictably leads to the obligatory explosive climax showdown between good and evil, a new film comes along and happily makes me feel as if I am twelve years old again. “Thor,” Director Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Marvel Comics God of Thunder more than delivers the goods and makes for a fine addition to the recent live action films of the Marvel Universe. While it doesn’t scale the propulsive and brilliant heights of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008)-and frankly, what could?-that’s just fine with me as I had a blast of a good time!

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth stars as the arrogant, reckless and battle thirsty Norse God Thor, who resides in the mythical land of Asgard, under the benevolent ruling of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Upon the day Thor is to be crowned the new King of Asgard and ultimate protector of the Nine Realms, much to the chagrin of his duplicitous and darkly magical brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Asgard is mysteriously infiltrated by a collective of Frost Giants, the Asgardians sworn enemies. After a brief skirmish, Thor, along with his warrior companions, defies Odin’s strict orders and defiantly crosses the Rainbow Bridge to enact retribution against the Frost Giants. Thor’s reckless actions infuriates Odin, who then relinquishes his son of his powers, his mighty hammer Mjollnir and exiles him to Earth to live among humans.

Crash landing in New Mexico, through what appears to be a major electrical storm, Thor is discovered by Astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team, which includes her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and her spunky Political Science major sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings). The hammer, which can only be held by the one who has proven himself worthy, has also crashed into a crater, and is now under the most watchful eyes of S.H.E.I.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his secretive operation.

As Thor attempts to reclaim his hammer and defeat the mounting threats of the Frost Giants and Loki, he begins an inner odyssey to discover the meaning of nobility, humility and the true honor of a warrior. And of course, it would not be unfair for me to alert you, dear readers, that our Norse God also has a little romancing on his mind in the form of the tenacious Jane Foster.

“Thor” is a rousing, rock ‘em sock ‘em, briskly paced two hour and ten minute epic that never feels forced, rushed, overcooked or dumbed down. The theater walls will shake valiantly, yet this is no Michael Bay styled cinematic cataclysm ready made to pummel an audience into submission. On the contrary, “Thor” is decidedly old fashioned as it is almost exactly the kind of experience that made going to the movies in the summer so anticipated in years past. It’s exactly the kind you would gladly save your allowance money to stand in line and see more than once.

While Kenneth Branagh may not be the most obvious choice to helm a gigantic summer movie adventure, it turned out to be the best choice. Much like Robert Downey Jr.’s, once thought to be unlikely but now definitive performance as Tony Stark/Iron Man, I just felt so proud for Branagh as he obviously took to this directorial task like a kid receiving the most amazing toy chest. Certainly he could bring to the table his sense of Shakesperian heft to the sequences set in Asgard, with all of the King’s English banter and bravado. But, he was somehow able to bring it all down to Earth, as it were, with a surprisingly sharp sense of “fish out of water” humor, that was unforced and never overplayed or obvious—much like the terrific balancing act seen in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986).

Branagh’s sheer confidence with the CGI heavy material is also notable as he just seemed so unintimidated by all of the war sequences and celestial voyages. He understands that if you are going to take on the God Of Thunder, you just have to go big or go home. While one friend of mine actually compared the somewhat cheesy costumes and effects to the 1980 adaptation of “Flash Gordon,” I have to strongly disagree. I never saw that level of goofiness a detriment or one that surrendered “Thor” to an unfortunate level of campiness. The film is a rollicking, colorful wonderland and Kenneth Branagh understands that all this film needs to be is a comic book brought to life as best as possible. He also understand very well that his film has to fit tightly with the three recent Marvel Comics film adaptations of “Iron Man” (2008), “Iron Man 2” (2010) and “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) in preparation for Director Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” scheduled for 2013. Branagh handles all of these elements with skill, humor, heart and an incredible energy and I truly appreciated the clues, here and there, designed to link the films of the Marvel Universe together (watch for Jeremy Renner’s quick appearance as the sharp shooting archer Hawkeye).

“Thor” doesn’t need to possess the Peter Jackson styled sense of gritty realism of “The Lord Of The Rings” series to be successful. All “Thor” needs, and what most movies of this sort tend to forget in lieu of those snazzy special effects, is to just tell a good story, with good actors and performances, as best as possible and without letting the special effects overwhelm inappropriately. Branagh’s gleeful adaptation and his enthusiasm in the presentation is highly palpable as he is somehow able to seamlessly weave in themes that easily bring to mind Cain & Abel, King Arthur’s sword in the stone, Oedipal drama and even a taste of “The Wizard Of Oz” (1939) along with the bombastic fire and brimstone action of that swirling hammer with the boomerang swiftness.

Yes, "Thor" is also more than a bit silly and Branagh knows it. While there are many opportunities when “Thor” provides some knowing chuckles, it never sacrifices its story or characters to irony. All of the players, from humans, Asgardians and Frost Giants remain true to themselves and their respective situations. “Thor” is thankfully innocent, a rarity these days, especially when it comes to these sorts of films. Despite its PG-13 rating, I would say that it is almost a family film due to its lack of bloody violence and the profanities and sexual innuendos being kept to a minimum. In the very best fashion, and just as I felt when I walked out of Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man,” “Thor” is a throwback to a time when superhero films did not drown themselves in existential angst and bleakness. It takes an immense talent like Nolan to make a film like “The Dark Knight” work so tremendously but it takes equal talent to make something so pure of heart without becoming twee, watered down or toothless. Kenneth Branagh, his writers, his crew, his special effects team and his excellent cast brought the goods handsomely.

Chris Hemsworth wields the hammer and fills the red cape and armor wonderfully. While he more than supplies the brawn (and beefcake), he is not a brainless hero. Hemsworth not only shows that he has the ability to go toe-to-toe with Anthony Hopkins and believable when swinging that hammer or racing between worlds via that aforementioned Rainbow Bridge. He is sympathetic and quite charming. He has the deftness of a light comedian, making him convincing in the romantic comedy sections and even more impressively when he steps into the role of a romantic leading man or is forced to succumb to moments of regret, mournfulness, and self-sacrifice.
Natalie Portman shows that it is possible to go from Oscar winning wrenching psychological drama to lighter fare with sumptuous class as she is more than game with this material as she shows off her resolve and persistence combined with a gentle sexual friskiness. Hemsworth and Portman build a warm chemistry and teasing energy that builds nicely to its climax and effectively leaving the audience with that trademark Marvel Comics melancholic yearning in its wake.

Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard provide the film with just the correct amount of gravitas while Tom Hiddleston brings an effortless malevolence as Loki. Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Joshua Dallas and Tadanobu Asano all distinguish themselves nicely as Thor’s faithful comrades in arms. And what a pleasure it was to see Idris Elba (most recognizable from HBO’s “The Wire”) as Heimdall, the gatekeeper of the Rainbow Bridge and Rene Russo as Thor’s Mother Frigga (here’s hoping they are in on the action more in the inevitable sequel).

Ah, how this film took me back! Back to the days when the Marvel Comics universe felt as real as life itself and I spent my summer days basking in the glow of comic book heroes and villains. This film reminded me of the glory days of summer cinema when Richard Lester’s “Superman II” (1981) set the gold standard. “Thor” also showed exactly how a film like M. Night Shyamalan’s ambitious but hugely disappointing “The Last Airbender” (2010) went so wrong just by being so right.

Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” is a film that is thankfully not jaded. It is not a cynical enterprise. It is a film that is pure of heart. It is a supremely earnest film that believes in itself wholeheartedly. It beautifully conjures the magic of a child’s fantasy and most impressively, the lingering suspicions and hopes that the Norse myths are real and the sound and fury of lightning and thunderstorms are indeed epic battles in the ongoing wars of the Gods.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Screenplay Written by Colin Higgins
Directed by Hal Ashby
**** (four stars)

I am most certain that it may be extremely difficult for any of you to believe that I have not seen this film before now. Yes, dear readers, it is true. Director Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude,” legendary cult classic and deeply influential work is just one of those films of which I obviously had knowledge of even without knowing any of its specifics. “Harold and Maude” was just one of those seminal works that never really ever crossed my path and my impetus to become acquainted with it was never terribly strong.

The first time I had ever heard of the film was during my own teen years, 1985 to be exact, as I was building a growing affection for the subversively oddball and almost surreal John Cusack comedy “Better Off Dead” from Writer/Director Savage Steve Holland. As I am certain all of you remember, “Better Off Dead” centered around lovestruck Lane Meyer (Cusack) and his romantic downfall when the girl of his dreams (Amanda Wyss) dumps him for another, albeit arrogant rich boy, who is also Captain of the high school ski team. In addition to dealing with his bizarre family and the even more bizarre family across the street, Lane is confronted with the vengefully persistent newspaper boy, two Howard Cosell imitating Asian drag racing brothers and is own depleting self-esteem and heartache. Devastated, Lane periodically indulges in a series of ridiculous suicide attempts until he begins to regain his footing and re-build his self-confidence after catching the eye of the cute French exchange student (Diane Franklin) across the street.

To paraphrase the great Roger Ebert, I truly hated, hated, hated that movie on my first viewing. But high school being high school, I found myself in situations where I had seen “Better Off Dead” over and over again and then subsequently renting it for myself over and over again, as it off kilter rhythms and teeter-totter humor finally sunk in. As talk of that comedy blazed through the high school hallways, one close friend suggested to me that I should see “Harold and Maude” as it also featured the darkly comic misadventures of a young man engaging in ridiculous suicide attempts. While I did take the suggestion to heart, I never found myself searching for it in the local video store.

Campus screenings during my college years came and went and even into adulthood, with a wider knowledge of cinema at my disposal, “Harold and Maude” never seemed to race to the forefront of my mind. And yet, I feel for movies in the same way I feel for music or literature. The art in question will choose you and find you when the time is right. As I walked into my local video store to obtain a new release almost two weeks ago, “Harold and Maude,” for an inexplicable reason, popped into my consciousness and I rented that as well.

The time was right and now I understand.

Simultaneously filled with grim comedy, surreal touches combined with a pastoral sensibility and fragile spirit of love and heartbreak, Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” stars Bud Cort as Harold Chasen, a wealthy, sheltered young man in his 20’s who has an unusual obsession with death and dying. Typically dressed in dark colored suits, Harold skulks around graveyards, drives a hearse and regularly attends the funerals of strangers. At his most defiant, Harold rebels against the vacuous, so-called “respectable” life his wearily detached socialite Mother (played sharply by Vivian Pickles) continuously attempts to arrange for him by staging a series of elaborately gruesome and hysterical suicide attempts.

Enter 79 year old Dame Marjorie Chardin, otherwise known as “Maude” (Ruth Gordon), whom Harold meets at a funeral. Maude is the eternal free spirit, the uninhibited life force with a seemingly childlike sense of wonder that contrasts profoundly with Harold morbid worldview yet also intrigues him greatly. Maude habitually steals cars, poses nude for an artist friend, gleefully collects all manner of bric-a-brac and has an engagement with life that ultimately draws Harold out of his self-imposed shell. The twosome re-plant a stolen tree, Maude gives Harold a banjo, they outsmart a motorcycle cop (Tom Skerritt), share songs, stories and dark secrets all the while creating a highly unorthodox bond, as Harold and Maude fall in love.

As Maude approaches her 80th birthday, she and Harold are forced to confront not only their feelings for each other but their feelings regarding life itself and the realities of death, suicide, love and the choices we all make in deciding how we live our lives.

At first glance, “Harold and Maude” is the obvious precursor to modern day independent feature films. In fact, it closely mirrors, ever so precisely, the very sort of current independent films that typically make me shudder. The type with the self-consciously quirky (read: “colorful”) characters that never feel as if they could possibly exist in any world anywhere. “Harold and Maude” admittedly is a strange, peculiar little film. I do have to admit that while there were several moments that felt stylistically odd to me (for instance, how Harold wears the exact same clothing as his psychotherapist) or even a few moments that felt a tad flat, by the film’s mid-point, I had succumbed to its tonality, form, structure and of course, its characters.

Hal Ashby has created a tale that unfolds with a jagged rhythm, set to the soulfully soothing music of Cat Stevens. The film flies from absurdist comedy to sections of deep melancholic existentialism without warning yet, he keeps all of the elements in place by presenting the motivations and emotional states of his titular characters firmly in the foreground. “Harold and Maude” works as so much more than an oddball “May-December” romance or even as an exercise in insufferable self-indulgent quirkiness. Thankfully, the character quirks do not exist solely for themselves. By making the characters of Harold and Maude emotionally true through his unforced cinematic hands, Ashby injects just enough honest pathos, which cements these two oddities into actual human beings we can understand and empathize with. Those moments are the passageway into the film’s deeper emotional waters, which enhances the comedy and makes the drama so touchingly painful. As the film ambled along its way, I found myself truly absorbed by and concerned about the fates and overall happiness of Harold and Maude. By the film’s conclusion, I was surprised by how big of a punch the film packed.

Although “Harold and Maude” definitely speaks to the counter-culture movement of the early 1970s (depicted greatly by the character of Harold's Uncle, a one armed military war veteran), Hal Ashby’s film transcends its period and becomes a timeless work of art. Ashby plays with and juxtaposes the film’s variety of themes fiendishly and in its crafty way, he forces you to make your own conclusions rather than beating you over the head with his personal worldview. “Harold and Maude” is a life affirming film that just happens to hold suicide as a major theme. Additionally, I found myself wondering if this film is a love story between two insane people who have somehow found each other or is it an honest portrayal that explores the mysteries of the soul and how one individual is able to find and positively influence another?

Harold Chasen’s existential pain of nothingness and meaninglessness is presented as very real even though we experience much of it through his offbeat suicide attempts and ploys of insanity designed to ward off influences he has no desire to engage. Bud Cort’s performance as Harold is simultaneously sympathetic and more than a little creepy. His physical resemblance suggests a younger Andrew McCarthy yet with the pallor of a wax museum mannequin. Harold says little throughout the film and when he does speak, it is a hair above a mumble. And after one of his sadistic pranks has sabotaged yet another of his Mother’s sad attempts to normalize him, there is a moment when he stares into the camera like a Stanley Kubrick character and the moment is a bit chilling. Yet, in one short confessional monologue to Maude, as we understand exactly the source of his sadness, we are also allowed to ponder if he is simply self-indulgent and misguided. A possibility that becomes clearer once his relationship with Maude reaches its climax.

Ruth Gordon’s Maude could be seen as nothing more than a fanciful elderly pixie yet she skillfully toys with any pre-conceived perceptions by embodying some extremely real touches that exist within the life of the character and upon the fringes of the film. She obviously represents the life force but as we learn more about her life, we are shown how a person’s happiness or downfall is the result of one’s personal choices. But are Maude’s choices representing a personal freedom or an abject nihilism? The film’s final sequences illustrate beautifully how her choices have been informed by the fullness of her life experiences but has she acted in a noble or reckless fashion?

I truly love films like this!! Films that stick to the ribs, so to speak, with characters who twist and turn as I remember and ruminate over them. Films that continue to reveal themselves the more you think about them as well as with each subsequent viewing. It has been nearly two weeks since I have seen “Harold and Maude” and the fact that the work is still racing through my mind speaks to its power, as well as its long cinematic history as a celebrated an influential work. Judd Apatow has long stated how the work of Hal Ashby remains a significant influence to his own work. Cameron Crowe (who has issued the film’s only official soundtrack album through his Vinyl Films imprint) has frequently declared “Harold and Maude” as one of his personal Top Ten Favorite Films and after having seen it for myself, I cannot help but to wonder if his “Elizabethtown” (2005) was a partial tribute to Ashby's film. I also wondered if Paul Thomas Anderson even took a page from the “Hal Ashby Playbook” when he made “Magnolia” (1999), a film which featured the music and voice of Aimee Mann as that film’s beating heart and connective tissue that bound the variety of stories and characters together.

As I watched “Harold and Maude,” the filmmaker working today, that popped into my head, whose films feel as if they could have originated from the same world as Ashby’s was Wes Anderson. While I have no idea if Ashby or “Harold and Maude” happens to be one of Anderson’s favorite films or influences, it cannot be overstated how Anderson regularly creates artificial worlds with peculiar characters and foibles where the emotions are instantly recognizable, relatable and real.

And maybe that is why this film spoke to me so profoundly. Harold and Maude were two people who ultimately felt recognizable, relatable and real, whose questions about life and death mirror my own or presumably anyone else’s. “Harold and Maude” is a poignantly playful film that jangles upon its path without any regard for any potential ill viewpoints. It is a film that lives, breathes, dances and remains so present long after the fade out.

I am so happy, that at this time of my life, this film chose me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Ahhh...I feel creatively refreshed!!!!

After sitting the month of March out, so to speak, it was wonderful to re-engage with my writing spirit and most importantly, with all of you. Given the length of a couple of entries, it could be argued that I re-engaged with my writing spirit too much. Yet, as I have said in the past, the lengths of the postings and reviews are intentional and purposeful. If you are unable to read what I have written when it arrives, do not fret. It will be here when you do have the time. Savage Cinema, among many other attributes, is more than patient for your company.

For the month of May, the official start to the 2011 Summer Movie Season, I am already excited about two major releases.

1. Kenneth Branagh's "Thor," the new adaptation of the Marvel Comics superhero is one I am very anxious to see, even as I am growing more than alittle weary of superhero movies right now. That said, Make Mine Marvel!!!

2. "Bridesmaids" features the creative reunion between Producer Judd Apatow and Writer/Director Paul Feig who famously teamed up for the masterful television series "Freaks and Geeks" and you could not keep me away from that whatsoever.

3. I have decided upon a re-title for one of my little series. "The Ones That Nearly Got Away," the title of a series spotlighting films previously unseen films, was a title I never really liked and always found to be more than a little awkward sounding. I needed to have something shorter, and with the right...punch. So, let's try "Savage Cinema Debuts"!! I already have the first entry in mind and it is for a film I am certain you would be stunned that I have not seen before now.

As always, there may be some surprises, so I'm going to start small.

Wish me luck and I'll see you when the house lights go down!