Friday, August 22, 2014

CALVARY: McDonagh & Gleeson’s Fine Follow-Up To THE GUARD


Now playing at a indie art house near you...

CALVARY (Dir. John Michael McDonagh, 2013)


In Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 comic Irish thriller THE GUARD, Brendan Gleeson’s partying police sergeant lead came off as a ballsy blend of Dirty Harry and Benny Hill. In McDonagh’s fine follow-up CALVARY, now playing in the Triangle area, the bearded bearish Gleeson plays a less outlandish, much more grounded protagonist, a small town parish priest whose downbeat demeanor belies his gentle and kind soul.

The film, named after the hill near Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, begins with a close-up of Gleeson in the darkness of a confession booth listening to the unidentified voice of a man who speaks of being sexually abused by a priest when he was a child. As the offender is long dead, the man plans to take revenge on the Catholic Church by killing a good priest, which he figures will make more of a statement than killing a bad one. He gives Gleeson until the next Sunday to get his house in order: “Killing a priest on a Sunday; that'll be a good one!”

As his quaint coastal village – the film was shot in Easkey in County Sligo, Ireland – is sparsely populated, there are few suspects, so right off Gleeson has a good idea of who the threat is coming from (so may many in the audience who are familiar with the cast), but he doesn’t go to the police. 


Instead our pious priest protagonist goes about his daily duties of tending to the townfolk, including Chris O’Dowd as the local butcher whose wife (Orla O’Rourke) has been cheating with the local mechanic (Isaach De Bankolé). O’Dowd claims that De Bankolé is where his unfaithful wife got the shiner she’s been sporting (or more accurately hiding under Jackie O-style sunglasses).

Gleeson also deals with Dylan Moran (SHAWN OF THE DEAD) as a drunk millionaire who wants to donate money to the church to help absolve his guilt over how he obtained his riches, a former student behind bars for murder and cannibalism (played by Gleeson’s real-life son Domhnall) the always welcome (and always grizzled as Hell) M. Emmett Walsh only credited as “The Writer” who asks the priest to get him a gun (a Walther PPK – James Bond’s weapon of choice, in fact), and Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Game of Thrones) as the town’s physician who says of himself: “the atheistic doctor, it’s a cliché part to play.”

There’s also Gleeson’s adult daughter (Kelly Reilly) in town to recover after a suicide attempt. Reilly and Gleeson’s scenes together have a quiet power; at one crucial point they share a shadowy confession booth pondering questions of salvation and damnation. One can really feel through their exchange how troubling laws of spirituality can be, especially when considering that they may not really exist.

Things get out of Gleeson’s hands, in the film’s unsettling second half. Somebody burns down Gleeson’s church, his dog is found dead, and the long sober priest goes on a bender at the local pub.

There are many amusing lines and moments in CALVARY, but few laugh out loud instances as it’s a drama speckled with black comedy rather than a black comedy decorated with dramatic bits. It pokes fun at the notion of Gleeson living by a moral code, yet still respects him for trying to do so; it pities rather than ridicules religion.

On the surface, Gleeson puts in a performance that can be seen as a huge shrugging off of a lifetime of tiring existential ponderings, but look deeper and you’ll see a masterful portrayal of a sincere as sin holy man at the end of his rope.

More later...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Win The Tony Jaa/ONG BAK Trilogy On Blu Ray!


I've got a copy of the Blu ray box set of the newly released ONG BAK Trilogy, starring actor/writer/director/martial arts master Tony Jaa, to give away this week.

I'm looking for a reader who's a fan of the films, who can write up 100-300 words on why these movies are awesome. You can write more than that if you'd like, but it's got to be at least 100.

The winning entry will receive the 3 Blu ray box containing: Panna Rittikrai's ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (2003), and its two prequels, which were co-directed by Rittikrai and Jaa, ONG BAK 2: THE BEGINNING (2008), and ONG BAK 3: THE FINAL BATTLE (2010).

So if you or somebody you know are into these movies and want to win a box of them on Blu ray with the power of your words, get cracking!

Send your short (or long) essays to: 

boopbloop7@gmail.com.

Deadline for entries is August 29th.

More later...

Friday, August 15, 2014

THE EXPENDABLES 3: The Film Babble Blog Review


Opening today at a multiplex near you:

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (Dir. Patrick Hughes, 2014)


If you don't know the drill by now, it goes like this: Sylvester Stallone assembles a cast of every action movie star ever into a summer blockbuster filled with explosions and fantastically stupid stunts in hopes that every action movie fan ever will go see it.

So far it’s worked - both 2010's THE EXPENDABLES, and its 2012 sequel were huge hits despite largely negative critical reaction.

So here’s the third one, directed by Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes, whose only previous feature length credit is the little seen thriller RED HILL.

This time, the mercenary group headed by the smug 68-year old Stallone goes up against Mel Gibson as a former Expendable gone rogue. 


The bare bones of the plot-line: On a team mission in Somalia, Crews gets shot in the ass (that’s right) by evil arms trader Gibson, which causes a guilt ridden Stallone to disband his crew, made up of the returning Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone hires new Expendables (Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, and Victor Ortiz) to help him bring down Gibson, but he captures the new recruits so the old members get back together to go save them.

A less crabby than usual Harrison Ford fills in for Bruce Willis as the gang's CIA contact, a slick Wesley Snipes, and a constantly jibber jabbering Antonio Banderas are on hand as a new “old” Expendables, and Kelsey Grammer, for some reason, appears as a retired mercenary who helps Stallone find the new blood.


There’s way less dumb fun as the second installment, but it’s still much better than the first, although it shares that film’s draggy down times. 

It’s surprising that three writers (Stallone with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt) are credited for the screenplay, because most of the dialogue has a real make-it-up-as-we-go feel to it especially when it comes to lines like “You were stupid enough to get yourself into this mess! And we're the only ones crazy enough to get you out of it.”

Another favorite bad line, “Morons need friends,” could serve as the movie’s motto, and just about everything that Schwarzenegger says is funny as Hell - especially his callback to PREDATOR: “Get to the Chopper!” 


The climax, taking place in an abandoned building in Bulgaria that Gibson has rigged with C4, is the most successful set-piece sequence, a reward of sorts for being able to get through the excruciating boredom of the bulk of the film.


It, of course, all comes down to hand-to-hand combat between Stallone and Gibson right up to the building being detonated, because what action film doesn’t end with the protagonist and antagonist facing off? You know, like in FACE/OFF?


Except for some jokes made about their elders’ advancing age (“That would be a good plan, if it was still 1985” one quips about Stallone’s proposed strategy), the new Expendables don't make much of an impression, except for Rousy, a UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion in real life, but that’s really only because she’s the only woman present.


Ford is amusing in his role, showing off his helicopter piloting skills, and I almost believe him when he says at the end that the adventure “was the most fun I've had in years.”


Gibson makes a great scenery chewing adversary, you know, the kind of vicious villain that kills his henchmen if they fail. He certainly makes the most of being the guy that audiences love to hate, even without saying anything racially insensitive.


But this is Stallone’s show, and overall I like how he’s re-branded himself with this franchise. It’s so much more preferable to him putting out Rambo and Rocky sequels for the rest of his life, but it’s disappointing that this sloppily executed old school action exercise doesn’t go for the so-bad-it’s-good gold until the last 15 minutes.

I also hate that it's the first EXPENDABLES that's rated PG-13. I really miss the blood splatter.

More later...

Woody Allen’s Newest & A Postmodcast Tribute To Robin Williams



Woody Allen's new film MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT, his 45th feature as writer/director, releases today in the Triangle area. Here's where my review can be found:

“A little moonlight but no magic in Woody Allen’s latest” (Raleigh News & Observer, 8/14/14)


A subject that's been impossible to shake this week has been the devastatingly sad and shocking death of actor/comedian Robin Williams.


I posted my picks for his top 10 films (Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Robin Williams Films), then discussed William's illustrious yet fairly spotty career with Kevin Brewer on the podcast, postmodcast, which you can access here: 

Postmodcast: Robin Williams (Raleigh & Company, 8/13/14)

Coming soon: A review of THE EXPENDABLES 3, which also opens today, and a three episode series of postmodcast celebrating the 30th anniversary of 1984, in which Kevin and I will look back at the music, movies, and TV of that banner year. Please stay tuned.

More later...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Robin Williams Films



I was extremely saddened as well as shocked to hear yesterday evening that Robin Williams was found dead at age 63 of an apparent suicide.

Since I was a huge fan as a kid – it was the era of Mork and Mindy, POPEYE, and his first stand-up comedy album “Reality…What a Concept” (still have the original vinyl, pictured on the left) – and I’d seen nearly every movie the man made in the three decades since (as well as tons of TV appearances on just about every talk show there is), I've been finding it very difficult to process William’s passing.

However, one thing that helps is to look back at his rich career, particularly his legacy on film since this blog is all about babbling 'bout that. I compiled a list of my 10 favorite of Williams' many movies, which I am sharing below. I have to say with a “heavy sigh” (as Mork would say) that it wasn’t easy as he was in many lackluster or just plain sucky films (I’m looking at you PATCH ADAMS, JACK, MAN OF THE YEAR, RV, FATHER’S DAY, CLUB PARADISE, the list goes on and on), but I’m here to praise Williams not bury him.

So I’m going to forget the fluff, flops, and FLUBBER and remember the times he most made me laugh, as well as touch something deeper, on the big screen via these fine, unforgettable films (several of which are available for streaming on Netflix Instant):

1. THE FISHER KING
(Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1991)
  

Williams' performance as Parry, a homeless Holy Grail-seeking New Yorker, garnered him his second Oscar nomination (#4 on this list was his first). It was the perfect mix of his manic madman schtick and his somber sad sack personas, an alteration he could make simultaneously. For instance, an early scene in Parry's boiler room hideout when Jeff Bridges as a down and out former radio shock jock is exiting: “Now that you know where we are, don't be a stranger. Come back. We'll rummage.” Then less than a beat later in a softer tone, “Take care of yourself, Jack. Give my love to the wife.”

Williams also recites tender speeches to Amanda Plummer as a mousy accountant he loves, croons the standard “How About You?” backed by a band of bums, and strips naked in Central Park at night to lie in the grass, look at the sky and participate in what he calls “cloud busting.” Mercedes Ruehl, who won the Oscar (well deserved) for her role as Bridges' long suffering girlfriend, may have held the heart of the movie, but Williams was its bungled and botched soul.

2. POPEYE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1980)


Although its box office doubled its budget, and there were many critics that liked it (including Roger Ebert), Robert Altman's take on E.C. Segar's famous comic strip, and cartoon, character was largely considered a commercial and critical flop (see Mad Magazine's satire “Flopeye”). I had issues with it myself as a kid but it's really grown on me over the years. Williams is perfectly cast as the salty sailor with the comically large forearms (matched with the equally dead-on Shelly Duvall as Olive Oyl), although much of his mumbled dialogue is unintelligible. It really stands out as a film debut for the Julliard trained actor, who despite the rough reaction, proved there was a lot more to him than Mork.

Also check out my post about the film's strange soundtrack scored by Harry Nilsson.

3. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP
(Dir. George Roy Hill, 1982)


Instead of retreating into the conventional comedy comfort zone that would plague much of his career, Williams followed up POPEYE with this lofty adaptation of John Irving's 1978 bestselling novel. The fan that I was at the time, I read the book (my parent's copy) in anticipation, which wasn't really appropriate material for a 12 year old.

Although I loved the ethos of Williams' everyman dealing with the sexual revolution, and John Lithgow's blustery Oscar-nominated portrayal of a former pro football player turned trans woman, I didn't really get the movie when I saw it at that age - but it my opened my eyes way wide for sure. Williams, no doubt, led many youngsters into edgy adult territory with this one.

4. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM
(Dir. Barry Levinson, 1987)


Williams' first Oscar nomination was for his role as Armed Forces DJ Adrian Cronauer, a real life radio personality who ruled the airwaves in 1965 Vietnam. It's a definitive Williams performance, in a fine film that much like M*A*S*H successfully mixed humor with dark drama, but what's most memorable about is the in-your-face, over-the-top man's many hilarious broadcast booth scenes. The audio of these are well captured on the soundtrack, which you can read more about in my 2009 post 10 Movie Soundtracks That Think Outside The box Office.

5. WORLD’S GREATEST DAD
(Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)

Williams' last great movie was also one of his gutsiest. He plays a high school poetry teacher and aspiring writer whose douchey son (Daryl Sabara) accidentally kills himself via autoerotic asphyxiation. Williams writes a suicide note to cover for him, and when that gets a lot of attention he fakes a journal of his son's writing which scores him a publishing deal. It's twisted stuff, right in line with the weird yet intriguing rest of writer/director Goldthwait's output (SHAKES THE CLOWN, SLEEPING DOGS LIE, GOD BLESS AMERICA), and Williams nakedly owns it.

6. THEADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN
(Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1988)


It could be seen as a glorified cameo, but as the floating, disembodied chatterbox head of the King of the Moon for his first feature with Gilliam, Williams stole the movie fair and square.

7. MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON (Dir. Paul Mazursky, 1984)

In another dramatic curve ball, Williams role as Vladmir Ivanov, a Russian circus musician who defects to America, is one of his most believable and grounded performances. It also is the basis of the theory that if Williams is bearded in a film, we're dealing with serious stuff. Soviet born Yakov Smirnov, a sensation in the '80s for his communism mocking comedy, had a small part in the movie. Of course he did.


8. AWAKENINGS (Dir. Penny Marshall, 1990)

Williams' role as a physician experimenting with a new drug on Parkinson's patients in this adaptation of Oliver Sack's 1973 memoir again backs up the beard theory, but more importantly its another dose of weighty yet warm work in which he keeps the wackiness under wraps. Aided by a sharp screenplay by Steven Zaillian (SCHINDLER'S LIST, GANGS OF NEW YORK, MONEYBALL), Williams' relationship with Robert De Niro, yet again Oscar nominated, as a patient who comes out of a long catatonic state, is a joyous collaboration that helps make it Penny Marshall's best film (yes, better than BIG and A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN imho).

9. GOOD WILL HUNTING
(Dir. Gus Van Sant, 1997)

The fourth time was the charm nomination-wise, as Williams won the Oscar for his part as Matt Damon's therapist (bearded) in this highly acclaimed, crowd pleasing drama scripted by Damon and Ben Affleck (who also won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay). Williams made quite a mark in his sensitive portrayal of a widowed psychologist, and was able to fit in some funniness as well.

10. THE FINAL CUT (Dir. Omar Naim, 2004)

Probably the least well known movie on this list, and possibly the worst reviewed, this is a personal favorite because it came during a period in which I had written off Williams. His sober nuanced performance as “a cutter,” somebody who edits the memories of the newly deceased into two hour movies to be viewed as their funeral (the sci-fi tinged film takes place in the near future) made more of an impression on me than his widely praised part in the way too creepy ONE HOUR PHOTO from two years earlier. 

Other notable Williams film work: 

INSOMNIA, DEAD POET'S SOCIETY (second Oscar nomination), THE BEST OF TIMES, ALADDIN, THE BIRDCAGE, DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, and DEATH TO SMOOCHY (that's right).

R.I.P. Robin Williams (1951-2014)

More later...

Friday, August 08, 2014

TMNT: Terrible Mind Numbing Tripe


TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
(Dir. Jonathan Liebesman, 2014)


Now, I've never seen (or read) any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before. I guess I had grown too old for that stuff as a kid when it was big in the '80s (though I think I saw some of the cartoon on TV), and I completely ignored the three movies they made in the '90s - I didn't even know until I watched this 3 minute video made by Vulture about the 31 year history of the whole TMNT deal that there were three movies.

But this last week I ended my long run of being TMNT free by attending a screening of the new big ass reboot. It was a dreadful experience. While GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY shows how clever and good comic book movies can be, this offers the counter balance of how mind-boggingly bad they can can be too.

Megan Fox, apparently trading in one toy company commercial franchise for another (goodbye TRANSFORMERS, hello Turtles) stars in the clichéd role of a New York TV news reporter looking for the big story that will break her career. Fox and Will Arnett, in the just as tired archetype as her wise cracking (actually not so wise) cameraman sidekick, find out that a mysterious group of four vigilantes has been fighting back against a crime syndicate (the Foot Clan) that has been terrorizing the city.

Fox discovers that the vigilantes are overgrown reptiles that were once her pets as a little girl from an experiment her scientist father conducted before his tragic death in a lab fire.

The turtles all named after Renaissance painters (Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Raphael), and voiced by Jeremy Howard, Johnny Knoxville, Noel Fischer, and Alan Ritchman, under the tutelage of Master Splinter, a mutated rat voiced by Tony Shaloub, join forces with Fox to stop evil William Fichtner from releasing a deadly gas that will infect millions.

Fichter's diabolical plan concerns poisoning the population then his company profiting by selling an antidote, which makes for one of the stupidest plots in recent memory. Screenwriters Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty even have Fichter say “Time to take a bite out of the Big Apple.”

But fans won't care about the hackneyed plot or the pages and pages of atrocious dialogue, right? They only care about seeing their CGI-ied heroes' mad martial arts skills in fast succession, ginormous destruction sequences by way of producer Michael Bay, pizza consumption involving prominent Pizza Hut product placement, and, uh, cries of “Cowabunga!”

But, I didn't care about single thing I saw on screen in its entire 1 hour and 52 minute running time. Way before they get to the big climatic battle atop a skyscraper I had checked out. I couldn't tell the Turtles apart, even Knoxville (arguably the only one that's a name voicing them) didn't stand out, and the stakes felt non existent in all the visually murky mess that the damn 3D conversion usually makes too dark, while not enhancing any element.

I thought my extreme dislike was due in part to not having any childhood connection to these characters, but my younger fellow critics who had been fans back in the day told me after the screening that they hated it too.

But Fox may have made a smart choice, because from what I hear about its $60 million opening this weekend, she may have another critic proof franchise on her hands. It's also another series in which she won't have to worry at all about her lack of talent.

At least I can now say I've actually seen a TMNT project, and that acronym now stands for something new to me: Terrible Mind Numbing Tripe.

More later..

Thursday, August 07, 2014

BOYHOOD, Linklater, & Monty Python Discussed On The New Postmodcast



On the newest episode of postmodcast, a podcast that I am now co-hosting with Kevin Brewer (Twitter handle: @RealKevinBrewer) I talk about the new movie BOYHOOD, touch on the career of its director Richard Linklater, and discuss Kevin's experience seeing MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL for the first time (I've seen it so many times that I think its the #1 movie I've seen the most). That's Kevin and I pictured above at a Halloween party at my house few years ago (I'm in the Devo garb).


These are a few subjects near and dear to my heart as BOYHOOD is my favorite film of the year so far, I'm a big fan of Linklater, and HOLY GRAIL is my all time favorite comedy. 

There was a great moment in the last episode of Judd Apatow's one season cult classic TV series Freaks and Geeks when a teacher (played by Steve Higgins, later Jimmy Fallon's announcer on Late Night/The Tonight Show) consoled the lead geek characters, who were so tired of getting bullied, with a “it all gets better” speech. Higgins then offers up an 18 mm print of HOLY GRAIL (pictured above) that he just scored, saying for now that they should enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

On this episode of postmodcast I find out that one person's idea of the simple pleasures may be as foreign as can be to another. It was a lesson I had to learn.

If you didn't catch the links above, click here to listen.

More later...

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Minor Marvel Characters Make Major Movie Debut


Now playing at a multiplex near you:

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
(Dir. James Gunn, 2014)


The latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, is for sure one of the funniest movies of the year.

Sure, it’s a big action-packed sci-fi spectacle, but for me, it was all about the laughs. And there are a lot of them, many coming from one-liners spouted by the lead, Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, ZERO DARK THIRTY), who carries the movie like a reigning comedy champ.

Funnier still, is Pratt’s co-star, an animated raccoon named Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper, in maybe my favorite performance of his, who’s as much a master of weaponry as he is wisecracks, employing both in battle.

In this adaptation of a long running comic book series that I’ve been unaware of despite the fact it has been in existence since the year I was born (1969), Pratt plays Peter Quill, who we first meet as child in 1988 played by Wyatt Oleff witnessing his mother’s (Laura Haddock) death in the film’s opening moments. The young boy is abducted by aliens immediately afterwards, and we flash forward 26 years.

Pratt, identifying himself as a “junker,” flies around in his spaceship called “The Milano” scouring various planets for stuff to steal while listening to an old school tape compilation of ‘70s hits called “Awesome Mix. Vol. 1.”

From the dark, rocky terrain of a planet named Morag, Pratt obtains a mysterious orb (the movie’s McGuffin) which is sought for evil purposes by the villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who sends the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who was blue in AVATAR) to fetch it.

After Pratt tries unsuccessfully to sell the orb the much more stable planet Zander, Saldana steals it from him, but a couple of bounty hunters (the aforementioned raccoon, and a tree-like creature named Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel) get caught up in their chase/fight sequence mix.

The friction fraught foursome gets arrested by the Nova Corps, an intergalactic military/police force stationed on Zander, and run by Glenn Close as Nova Prime Irani Rael, with the always reliable John C. Reilly as one of her high-ranking officers.

From there, the thrown together team joined by Drax the Destroyer (WWE pro-wrestler 
Dave Bautista), who’s bent on taking revenge on Ronan to murdering his family, break out of imprisonment (in a hilarious chaotic set-piece to the tune of Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” and set about to keep the dangerously powerful orb away from the destructive devices of Ronan, and his boss Thanos (Josh Brolin), who you may remember from the stinger at the end of THE AVENGERS.

Also caught up in this crazy, uber colorful mayhem, is a blue-skinned Michael Rooker (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, The Walking Dead) as the leader of the Ravagers, a rag tag posse of alien ruffians also after the orb. Rooker’s gravel voiced scenery chewing makes you believe that extreme racist redneck stereotypes will no doubt flourish in the depths of space and other dimensions.

Now, it may seem silly redundant to say that this Phase 2 Marvel movie has a STAR WARS-ian swagger to it, as every summer sci-fi/comic book contender draws upon the blueprint of George Lucas’ original 1977 space opera, but with this particular entry with its motley crew onboard a hunk of junk spaceship traveling to seedy ports thing a-goin’ on, I can't help going there.


Also, it has more than one Han Solo figure present in the rogue smartass bravado of both Pratt and Cooper, leaving Diesel’s Groot to be our Chewbacca stand-in. There’s a great running gag involving how Groot can only say “I am Groot,” and how each time (with different Diesel inflections), Cooper’s character can understand what he’s really saying, a sort of Han and Chewie-ish situation.

Bautista's Drax being able to only take things literally (“Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast. I will seize it.”) is another highly amusing thread.
The big ass CGI- saturated battle sequences were a bit too visually cluttered for my tastes at times, but the sheer amount of fun I had with what director Gunn and his co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman kept hurtling at me and the audience made that not matter so much.

Just like Pratt’s coveted cassette compilation is called, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is an awesome mix. It takes nifty sideline superheroes, only known to hardcore comic fans, and makes major stars out of them (it's also certainly a star-making part for Pratt). But more importantly it made me a laugh a lot, while it proved once again that the Marvel formula - Stan Lee cameo included – has a lot of life left in it.

And, of course, stay for the traditional post-credits scene, which, I won’t spoil, but I will say that it hints at the resurrection of an infamous Marvel character apparently still trapped in a world he never made. That probably is a bit of a spoiler, sorry.

More later...

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Much Better Than Expected James Brown Biopic GET ON UP


GET ON UP (Dir. Tate Taylor, 2014)


  
I wasn’t psyched about the prospect of a PG-13 rated James Brown biopic from the director of THE HELP, yet Tate Taylor’s GET ON UP far exceeded my expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s no masterpiece. It’s a bit disjointed, and suffers from many of the tired true-life story tropes that bogged down Clint Eastwood’s JERSEY BOYS, but it’s anchored by an invested, confident performance by Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul, and its concert sequences are electrifying.

Boseman, best known for his portrayal of another African American who made history, Jackie Robinson in Brian Helgeland's 42 last year, doesn't really resemble James Brown but he's got his voice, inflections, and definitely his dance moves down. It satisfyingly shows that Boseman has worked hard to step into the shoes of the hardest working man in show business.

Scripted by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, who co-wrote FAIR GAME and EDGE OF TOMORROW, the film bounces around through the decades with each year given a title like “1965: Mr. Please Please Please.”

After a beginning shot of Brown walking through a dark backstage hallway towards the sound of screaming fans (hello again, WALK THE LINE, and its satirical sister WALK HARD), Taylor delves right into one of the seedier stories of the man's past: his PCP fueled tirade with a shotgun in tow towards a room full of insurance agents, one of whom made the mistake of using Brown's private bathroom in his business located in the same building.

This incident bookends the timespan-hopping bulk of the movie which takes us from Brown's poor childhood living in a rundown shack in the middle of South Carolina woods with an abusive father (Lennie James), and neglectful mother (Viola Davis) to his legendary performances at Apollo Theater in 1963 (one of the greatest live albums ever) the T.A.M.I. show in 1964 (one of the greatest concert films ever) his riot-quelling show in Boston the night that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, his triumphant concert at the Olympia Hall in Paris in 1971 (another essential live album), and back again to his youth.

I so wanted to leave the version of Brown as a boy (played by twins Jordan and Jamarion Scott) behind, but the film kept bringing him back into the time-shifting narrative, even surreally inserting him into a later-day scene to make some sort of point that I'm not sure I understand.

Despite that Brown sang that this man's world wouldn't mean nothing without a woman or a girl,” we don't learn much about his first two wives, played by Jacinte Blankenship and Jill Scott, except that they had to put up with a lot of shit.

The movie focuses more on Brown's friendship with Famous Flames bandmate Bobby Byrd played by Nelsan Ellis (True Blood, THE BUTLER), and his relationship with his manager Ben Bart, 
well acted by Dan Aykroyd, who appeared with the real Brown in THE BLUES BROTHERS back in the day.

These scenes are fine, but perfunctory and the same device of breaking the fourth wall - i.e. Brown talls directly to the camera throughout the film - that JERSEY BOYS did to death, doesn't help matters much either.

But, again, the fact that somebody with the name Chadwick Boseman can capture the fiery force of nature of the Funky President in so many standout scenes is cause for celebration.

There are times when Boseman's Brown comes on like a caricature, but then Brown often did in real life. One only needs do a Google image search or spend time with some clips of the man on YouTube to see that Boseman does a really respectable job with the role. 

Sure, I would've liked to learn more about how Brown's saxophonist Maceo Parker (Craig Robinson), who had many complaints about how his boss fined band members for making mistakes, left to join Parliament/Funkadelic in the '70s then returned to the fold in the '80s, or spent a little more time with Little Richard, wonderfully played by Brandon Mychal Smith, but then we're talking mini-series territory and the film, at 138 minutes, is long enough.

But Boseman's Oscar worthy performance surrounded by a roster of some of the greatest soul and funk music (all the original recordings) makes for a must see in my book (or on my blog).

So despite its many flaws, including a very uneven flow, GET ON UP is about as good as a PG-13 rated James Brown biopic from the director of THE HELP can be.

More later...