Friday, March 28, 2014

VERONICA MARS: A Fan-Funded Big Screen Reunion Special

Now playing in Raleigh at the Colony Theater...

VERONICA MARS (Dir. Rob Thomas, 2014)

Earlier this year, I made my way through all three seasons of Veronica Mars, which ran on the basic cable channels UPN and The CW from 2004-2007. I found the show, concerning a teenage private detective played with smart-alecky precision by Kristen Bell, to be a clever, witty, and very enjoyable mystery series.

A legion of fans who call themselves “Marshmallows” thought so too, enough to contribute $5.7 million to a Kickstarter campaign launched by Bell and series creator Rob Thomas to assist in producing a big screen follow-up, which is now playing in Raleigh at the Colony Theater and available worldwide on Video on Demand.
The movie version of VERONICA MARS, scripted by Thomas, advances the story ahead so that it’s almost a decade since the show ended, with Bell now living in New York, interviewing for investigator positions at prestigious law firms, and involved in a serious relationship with Chris Lowell, reprising his part as “Piz” her college love interest from the third season of the series.
Despite a lofty job offer from one of the most high-end firms, Bell treks back to her home town, the fictional Neptune, because of a phone call from her ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls (a very skinny Jason Dohring, also returning) asking for her help because he’s yet again accused of murder.
This is conveniently timed for the 10 year reunion of our heroine’s graduating class at Neptune High (that's why they skipped a few years ahead), so the scene is perfectly set for the appearance of more former cast members including Percy Daggs III as Bell’s best friend Wallace, Francis Capra as the now reformed biker badass Weevil, Tina Majorino as the computer savvy “Mac,” Ryan Hansen as the air-headed horny surfer Dick Casablancas, and Max Greenfield (New Girl) as a former Neptune deputy, and a former love interest of Veronica’s.
Also back is one of my favorite characters from the show, Veronica’s father Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), still operating as a private investigator.
The ins and outs of the mystery involving the murder of Dohring’s pop star girlfriend, another former fellow Neptune High student, are a little too tricky and Spoiler-filled to go into, so I’ll just cut to what fans are more interested in – the love triangle made up of Veronica, “Piz,” and Logan.
Lowell’s “Piz” is the nice safe guy that Veronica should be with, but the edgy darkness of Dohring’s Logan is obviously who the film and fans are rooting for, otherwise “Piz” would’ve been given at least one scene in to shine. Girls, even incredibly smart ones like our Veronica, always go for the bad boys, right?
VERONICA MARS may ultimately be just an extended episode writ large, as its production values aren’t that much improved from the show’s, but folks who’ve never seen the program before may still find it to be a fun snazzy thriller.

Critics are complaining that the MARS movie is a fans-only affair, but I disagree. I believe that much like the first X-Files film back in 1998, this film can function as both as an intro for newbies and an update for the hardcore.

It also sets itself up neatly for a possible sequel, but I'm hoping if they continue the adventures of Veronica Mars they'll return to the small screen. That's where her smart sassy self really belongs.

More later...

Jason Bateman’s Directorial Debut BAD WORDS Mildly Amuses

Opening today in Raleigh at the Colony Theater...

BAD WORDS (Dir. Jason Bateman, 2013)

Because of its ripe premise about a foul-mouthed 40-year-old who uses a loophole to enter a national spelling bee for elementary school students, I was expecting big laughs from Jason Bateman’s directorial debut.

Instead I had to make do with a fair amount of mildly amusing moments provided by the jerkish behavior of Bateman’s Guy Trilby, a guy who delights in humiliating the children contestants he towers over onstage, throwing them off their game so he can clean up with his mad spelling skills.

Bateman travels with his sponsor, Kathryn Hahn as a reporter for an online newspaper, to Los Angeles to complete in the National Quill Spelling Bee, in spite of the protests of Alison Janey as the tournament’s snobby director and all the competing kids’ parents.

Hated so much that they place him in the hotel’s storage closet for the duration of the event, Bateman befriends the cute 10-year old Chaitanya (Rohan Chand of Homeland and LONE SURVIVOR), because these BAD movies (BAD SANTA, BAD GRANDPA, BAD NEWS BEARS) usually have their crusty lead characters thrown together with young ones lacking parental guidance.

Chand is left unsupervised by his parents who are staying in a nicer hotel, so our profane protagonist takes him on a wild night ride by way of booze, soliciting a prostitute (Kimleigh Smith, who may have a few of the best lines), and pulling a public restroom prank involving a stolen lobster.

Of course, the most important set pieces are the nationally televised spelling bee segments hosted by a slick announcer played by Ben Falcone (BRIDESMAIDS, ENOUGH SAID) and Philip Baker Hall as Golden Quill’s respected founder/administrator, another participant who is highly disgusted by Bateman. These scenes actually play with a tinge of suspense, even though we know Bateman is too smart to lose (he even gets the word “Floccinaucinihilipilification” right!).

We get the bare bones of a back story about Bateman (don’t worry – no Spoilers!) late in the game, but it doesn’t fully flesh out the character in a satisfying way making the conclusion come off as way too tidy.

Working from a script by first-time screenwriter Andrew Dodge, first-time filmmaker Bateman shows strengths in story structure and timing, though some scenes felt like they were edited with too many close-ups. Like Harold Ramis told Stephen Tobolowsky on the set of GROUNDHOG DAY, “Comedy lives in the two-shot.”

It also feels like the film is only pretending to be mean-spirited and offensive, like that friend we’ve all had that says rude or ostensibly outrageous things just to get attention, but you know they’re really a softie deep down and it’s all a show.

Still, Bateman has crafted a likable film about an unlikable guy that I chuckled throughout at, and he’s surrounded the crude character with a charismatic cast aping a posse of pissed off people - Rachel Harris in particular, as an angry mother, steals her scenes.

Few are likely to laugh their asses off at BAD WORDS or claim that it’s a modern comedy classic, but those who don't mind (or are fans of) R-rated language looking for a mildly amusing matinee should look no further.

More later...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/25/14

Martin Scorsese's THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is definitely the biggest new release on Blu ray and DVD today. Sadly, the terrifically excessive story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), is only packaged with one Special Feature: a 17 minute featurette entitled “The Wolf Pack.” I understand not including the 2-part, 4-hour cut that was mentioned in many interviews as it was a rough version never intended to be the final vision, but some deleted scenes from it would've been nice. Read my review from last December.

As WOLF was one of Scorsese's funniest films, it's fitting that his 1982 comic commentary on fame, THE KING OF COMEDY, is also hitting Blu ray today in a 30th Anniversary Edition (just two years late!). The film, starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis, is one of my all-time favorites, so I'm glad to see that, unlike WOLF, is outfitted with such bonus material as nearly 40 minutes of Deleted and Extended Scenes, the 30 minute featurette “Tribeca Film Festival: A Conversation with Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis,” the 19 minute mini-doc “A Shot at the Top: The Making of THE KING OF COMEDY,” and original Theatrical Trailer.

Another great 2013 film, Paolo Sorrentino's THE GREAT BEAUTY, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film earlier this month, also releases today courtesy of the Criterion Collection. As with all Deluxe Criterion Editions, there is a plethora of Extras including a 13 minute video interview with star Toni Servillo, a 38 minute conversation with Italian film scholar Antonio Monda and Director Sorrentino, a 12 minute interview with screenwriter Umberto Contarello, 6 minutes of Deleted Scenes, the Trailer, and an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Lopate.

Criterion is also dropping two undeniable classics on the popular Blu ray format this week: Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor's 1925 Harold Lloyd comedy THE FRESHMAN, and Igmar Bergman's 1966 psychological drama PERSONA.

Also out today on Blu ray and DVD: Sini Anderson's documentary about riot grrl” Kathleen Hanna, THE PUNK SINGERKen Scott's lame Vince Vaughn comedy DELIVERY MAN; Larry Fessenden's horror flick BENEATH, Joe Massot's 1968 curiosity WONDERWALL (featuring music by George Harrison), Abel Ferrara's 1981 thriller MS. 45, and Asghar Farhadi's fascinating follow-up to his excellent 2011 Oscar winner A SEPARATION, THE PAST (my review).

More later...

Friday, March 21, 2014

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at an indie art house near you:

(Dir. Wes Anderson, 2014)

The world of Wes Anderson just got a lot wackier with his newest work, a screwball romp set in a fictional European country in the 1930s, ostensibly inspired by the writings of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig.

Ralph Fiennes, in a role that thankfully made me forget his creepy turn as Charles Dickens earlier this year in THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, stars as M. Gustave, the charming concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka as World War II approaches.

One of the hotel's newest employees, a Lobby Boy (Tony Revolori) named Zero, gets swept up in Fienne's farcical adventures involving the death of the wealthy Madame D (Tilda Swinton), with a valuable painting entitled "Boy With Apple" being left to the concierge in her will.

Swinton's family led by returning Anderson player Adrien Brody (sporting a Salvador-Dalí-esque mustache) as her son objects to Fiennes getting the priceless piece of art, and the family's dead-eyed hired hitman (Willem Dafoe) goes after our two plucky protagonists.

The tale is told as a story within a story by F. Murray Abraham as the older Zero in the 1960s to Jude Law credited only as "Young Writer." It's actually a story within a story within a story as the entire narrative by way of Law's later memoirs is being read in the present day by a teenage girl (Jella Niemann).

Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman present each time frame in a different aspect ratio to reflect which film format was in use when the sequence is set. I.e. the '30s scenes that dominate the movie are seen in what's known as the "Academy ratio," an almost square-shaped frame. The later day '60s scenes are shot in widescreen, and the more modern material material is in conventional “flat” (1.85:1) format.

This whole process is so Wes Anderson-y. So is the eye-catching color scheme, the jaunty score by Alexandre Desplat (since it's mostly set in the '30s, there are no obscure Kinks songs on the soundtrack), and, of course, the cast full of Anderson regulars.

Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goodblum, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, and the great Bill Murray all don magnificent mustaches and join in. Even though none of them are really given much to do except just to be there, they're all nice to see as they briskly go by.

Along with Law and Abraham, and new to the Anderson stable is Saoirse Ronan as Zero's love interest (shades of the kids in love in Anderson's previous project MOONRISE KINGDOM), Tom Wilkinson as the older version of Law's character, and a bald Harvey Keitel as one of Fienne's fellow prison inmates who helps him escape.

It's a funny coincidence (to me at least), that this and MUPPETS MOST WANTED, also releasing in the area today, have elaborate prison break sequences.

Anyway, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is maybe the most fun film of Anderson's oeuvre. It has a witty playfulness to match its picturesque beauty - gotta love the miniture models, matte paintings, and dioramic backgrounds that largely make up the scenary.

It's not going to convert those who find Anderson's work to be twee, too quirky for its own good, or pretentious, but those as in love with his style as he is, will find it to be a very filling feast.

That it's a film made for Wes Anderson fans by the biggest Wes Anderson fan of them all, Wes Anderson, doesn't get in the way of the infectious whimsy one bit.

More later...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The MUPPETS Follow-up: Funny But Felt Too Long

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

(Dir. James Bobin, 2014)

The Muppets are back in “the seventh sequel since their original motion picture,” as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew informs us in the opening song and dance number (“We’re Doing a Sequel”), to prove that they don’t need Jason Segel’s help anymore to forge the franchise ahead. 

Since the first sequel to 1979’s THE MUPPET MOVIE, was a jewel heist scenario set overseas (1981’s THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER), returning director Bobin, co-writing with Nicholas Stoller have apparently decided that the new follow-up to the 2011 franchise reboot, THE MUPPETS, should go the same route.

That's fine by me because, unlike, say, J.J. Abram's STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, the movie doesn't retread the same ground blindly. It uses its premise for a springboard for a bunch of new inspired nonsense; it doesn't repeat as much as a single joke from before.

As one of human guest star leads, Ricky Gervais pops up as a slick promoter to suggest to Kermit the Frog: “How about the Muppets go on a world tour?” and we're off. Ignoring the red flag that Gervais' name is Dominic Badguy (“pronounced bædgee, it's French.”), The Muppets put on a series of shows on a tour that includes stops in Berlin, Madrid and London.

We learn in Plotpointburg (yep) that Gervais is Number Two to the world’s Number One criminal, Constantine, who happens to be Kermit's exact double, well, except for a distinctive mole. Constantine (voiced with a heavy Russian accent by Matt Fogel) frames Kermit by planting a fake mole on him, which gets him captured and placed in prison, a Siberian Gulag run by Tina Fey, also laying the Russian accent on thick.

Constantine takes Kermit’s place - despite his accent and demeanor none of the other Muppets notice (well, Animal does but nobody pays attention) – so that he and Gervais can pull off museum and bank robberies while the others put on their noisy shows in the neighboring venues.

Another of the highlighted humans, Modern Family’s Ty Burrell is on board as an Inspector Clouseau-ish Interpol agent who works with Sam the Eagle to track down the thieves, and somehow they are able to fit in cameos by such celebrities as Lady Gaga, Christoph Waltz (dancing a waltz, of course), Frank Langella, Céline Dion, and Ray Liotta (who was also in MUPPETS IN SPACE incidentally).

This is all funny stuff, and Brett McKenzie’s incredibly catchy witty songs are all just as strong as his Oscar winning “Man or Muppet” from THE MUPPETS - especially Constantine’s soul ballad sung to Miss Piggy: “I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” – but at an hour and 53 minutes, the movie is way too long.

Even with every scene having at least one big legitimate laugh, a bunch of bits should’ve been shaved off to make this a tight 90 minutes or so. 

A scene in which we learn that Fey is a closet Kermit fan is cute but would’ve been better as a deleted scene on the later Blu ray/DVD release. Likewise some of the storyline involving Fey’s staging a production in prison with Kermit and his Gulag inmates (including McKenzie’s former Flight of the Conchords partner Jermaine Clement) could’ve been edited down a bit, as funny as it is to see Danny Trejo singing a verse of “The Casa Grande.”

Overall, I enjoyed MUPPETS MOST WANTED quite a bit, but just wanted it to end earlier. Bobin, Stoller, McKenzie, and all the Muppeteers (shout out to Dave Goelz, the only original member of the original Muppet team here) are doing a good job keeping the spirit of Henson’s warm and fuzzy vision alive, they just need to reign it in.

So here’s hoping that the Muppets next sequel, in which they’ll probably be Broadway bound, will find them putting on a tighter show with a much more reasonable running time.

More later...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/18/14

A few big new titles hit home video this week starting with: David O. Russell's AMERICAN HUSTLE, which although it won no Oscars, it certainly won most critics' hearts (it's at 93% on the Rotten Tomatometer). Russell's glitzy take on the '70s ABSCAM scandal starring Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Jennifer Lawrence is now available in 2-disc Blu ray and 1 disc DVD editions that contain as Special Features almost a half an hour of Deleted and Extended Scenes, and a 16 minute “Making of” mini-doc. Read my review: “David O. Russell's AMERICAN HUSTLE Pulls A Scorsese On ABSCAM” (12/20/13).

I still haven't seen FROZEN, but as it also drops today on Blu ray (2-discs) and DVD (single disc) I should really catch up with it. Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, and Adele Dezeem (sorry, Idina Menzel) star in Disney's ginormous animated smash that comes with a bunch of bonus material: a 7 minute featurette “D'Frosted: Disney's Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to FROZEN,” “The Making Of FROZEN” (3 min.), Deleted Scenes (7 min.), Music Videos (16 min.), and the Oscar nominated short GET A HORSE! (6 min.) starring Mickey Mouse.

A Disney project that I did see also releases this week: John Lee Hancock's SAVING MR. BANKS, out in both single disc Blu ray and DVD editions. Despite Tom Hanks charming performance as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson prickly portrayal of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers, the film didn't work for me aas you can read in my review from last December. Special Features include a couple of featurettes (“From POPPINS to the Present,” and Let's Go Fly A Kite”), and 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes.

Also out this week: a movie that barely anyone saw (not even sure if it came to my area), Justin Chadwick's biopic MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, starring Idris Elba; Peter Howitt's thriller REASONABLE DOUBT, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Dominic Cooper; Adrián García Bogliano's Spanish horror flick HERE COMES THE DEVIL, and Ping Wang's historical action epic KINGDOM OF CONQUERORS (DVD only).

On the older film front, the Criterion Collection is presenting two essential and extremely entertaining titles: Errol Morris' 1991 documentary about Stephen Hawking A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, and Akira Kurosawa's 1958 epic adventure THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (huge influence on STAR WARS), for the first time on Blu ray.

TV series sets out this week: Beetlejuice (animated series): Seasons Two & Three , Devious Maids: Season 1, and Flashpoint: Final Season.

More later...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

NEED FOR SPEED: A Collosal Piece Of Car Crash Crap

Now sadly playing at nearly every multiplex that has a parking lot:


(Dir. Scott Waugh, 2014)

The wildly popular AMC series Breaking Bad may have put Aaron Paul on the pop culture map, but this, his first major lead in a motion picture most likely won't be his big screen breakthrough.

The clichés come fast and furious (sorry) in this formulaic car chase action flick based on a long running video game series, something I didn’t know before my 10-year old nephew clued me in.

Paul stars as a badass racecar driver who runs his recently deceased father’s heavily in debt auto body shop in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. when he’s not participating in secret races after hours. Dominic Cooper as an obviously evil car dealer and ex-NASCAR driver pops up to make him an offer he can’t refuse: if Paul and his crew, made up of Scott Mescudi (AKA Kid Cudi for you hip hop fans), Ramón Rodríguez, Rami Malek, and Harrison Gilbertson, complete work on a custom Shelby GT500 Mustang, they will get a share of the $2 million the car will supposedly sell for.

The spirit of testosterone-fueled competition gets in the way of Paul and crew collecting their due when a race between Paul, Cooper, and Gilbertson goes tragically wrong, in a way anybody who’s ever seen a movie before can guess. Paul is sent to jail for involuntary manslaughter for Gilbertson’s death, which was actually caused by Cooper, but the ruthless creep sped away from the scene leaving no evidence of his involvement.

Cut to 2 years later – Paul is released from jail intent on enacting revenge on Cooper, so he travels cross country to California to take part in the De Leon, an elaborate illegal race organized by Michael Keaton offering the only performance of any vitality as a mysterious millionaire, who offers high energy commentary via the internet on the action.

Imogen Poots, as a car dealer/automotive expert but really more the obvious love interest tags along with Paul as they power through to the explosion-filled, embarrassingly over-melodramatic, and patience-testing finale.

The post production 3D conversion doesn’t help the film’s visuals, shot by Shane Hurlbut, who also worked with Director Waugh on his previous film, the abysmal ACT OF VALOR. Aerial in-your-face shots of cars flipping, and slow-motion jumps just aren’t any more impressive or enhanced any more than they’d be in 2D. Sure, the race sequences have a fair amount of cool looking stunts, but not enough to make this anywhere close to an essential experience, even for hardcore car racing maniacs, and certainly not enough to justify the movie’s 130 minute running time.

Paul does his best as the ultra-driven driver who has some weird sort of tunnel-vision super power that the movie makes no intent to explain, but the hammy dialogue he has to spout out, along with the lousy one-liners that he has to deliver (courtesy of first-time screenwriter George Gatins), keep dragging him down to their dreary level. From Cooper to Poots, Paul’s supporting cast doesn’t fare much better, though Poots gets some amusingly gooey close-ups.

Only Keaton and Mescudi appear to be really having a laugh on their way to picking up their paychecks.

Maybe Waugh is the new Hal Needham *, that is a former stuntman turned filmmaker, whose movies were stupid but they had great stunts in them.

But as B-movie bad as the late Needham’s films could be (pretty much everything except the original SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT is awful), they were at least a lot more fun than this noisy and hard to watch piece of car crash crap.

Worse yet, Paul doesn't even get to add his trademark "Bitch" to the ends of any of his lines.

* Waugh's father, Fred Waugh, was best friends with Needham so, yeah a definite influence.

More later...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Trailer Spotlight: Robert Altman's NASHVILLE (1975)

Next Wednesday evening at 7:30 pm, the Colony Theater, where I work part-time, in Raleigh is showing one of my favorite films: Robert Altman's 1975 country music-driven comedy drama NASHVILLE as part of their Cool Classics series. I wrote it up for my Film Picks column in today's Raleigh News & Observer, but here I wanted to put a spotlight on the movie's terrific trailer.

It's only a little over two minutes long, but it crams a lot of information in trying to describe the individual members of its large cast. The two announcers (one male; one female), quickly skip through the basic plot-points of its “24 unforgettable people,” with lines like “Shelley Duvall is the wide-eyed groupie doing what all groupies do so well.” Check it out:

It's a hoot, huh? They sure don't make trailers, or movies, like that anymore. 

The Colony is running this trailer before its current features (GLORIA and HER) so I love that our patrons will be seeing it throughout the next 6 days. With hope it'll encourage more than just a few folks to come check out the entire excellent film.

More later...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/11/14

The Coen brothers’ excellently icy INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (my #2 favorite film of 2013) is today’s most notable release on home video, in single disc Blu ray and DVD editions that only have one Special Feature: the 43-minute behind-the-scenes “Inside INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS” mini-doc that’s been showing on HBO the last few months. It’s good stuff with interviews with Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, T. Bone Burnett, and the filmmakers, but some other bonus material would’ve been nice. However, fans who've collected the Coen bros. work on DVD/Blu ray will know this is par for the course.

Next up, Brian Percival’s THE BOOK THIEF, a World War II drama that I didn't care for when it was released last December, is also available today in 1-disc Blu ray/DVD editions. The film, concerning Sophie Nélisse bonding with her kindly German foster parent Geoffrey Rush over stealing books from being burned by the Nazis, has about 40 minutes of Extras including the half hour doc “A Hidden Truth: Bringing THE BOOK THIEF to Life,” almost 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes, and the Theatrical Trailer.

Despite its stellar cast including Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Casey Affleck, and Forest Whitaker, OUT OF THE FURNACE, Scott Cooper's followup to his acclaimed country music drama CRAZY HEART (you know, the movie that won Jeff Bridges an Oscar), was largely ignored last fall. Now its out on Blu ray and DVD so it can be ignored all over again. No, just kidding - it's a not bad Rust Belt drama thriller about Bale as an ex-con whose younger brother (Affleck) goes missing after taking part in an illegal bare-knuckle fight run by the beyond evil Harrelson. It may not be as good as any random episode of True Detective, but it's not a waste of time either. Special Features: Four featurettes (“Inspiration,” “Scott Cooper,” “Crafting the Fight Scenes,” “The Music of OUT OF THE FURNACE,” and the Theatrical Trailer.

Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (it lost to THE GREAT BEAUTY) Felix van Groeningen's THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN also hits home video this week, but only on DVD. It's a tunefully sad drama which examines the relationship of tattoo artist Veerle Baetens and banjo player Johan Heldenbergh who fall in bluegrass soaked love, but that's put to the test by their terminally ill 6-year old daughter (Nell Cattrysse). Only one Special Feature is included: Interview with Director Felix van Groeningen.

Do we really need another documentary about the JFK assassination? Not really, but Malcolm McDonald's JFK: THE SMOKING GUN, releasing today only on DVD, is at least about one of the lesser known theories concerning the 50-year old event. It puts forth that the fatal head shot didn't come from the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository or the grassy knoll; it came from one of the cars full of Secret Service agents following Kennedy. 

With testimony from witnesses, that, of course, were ignored by the Warren Commission, and computer graphic breakdowns, McDonald's thriller-emulating doc isn't without points of major plausibility, but its way too padded with reenacted bits with stiff actors playing out scenes that have already been recreated dozens, if not hundreds of times before - i.e. the doctor unsuccessfully trying to stop the Secret Service from taking JFK's body from Parkland Hospital, the overcrowded Bethesda operating room, etc. Bonus Features: Forensic Evidence Gallery, Behind the Scenes Clips.

Also out today: Gary Fleder's action thriller HOMEFRONT, starring James Franco, Jason Stratham, Winona Ryder, and Kate Bosworth;  Takeshi Kitano's Japanese mafia thriller BEYOND OUTRAGE; Victor Salva's latest horror flick DARK HOUSE; Fabien Constant's documentary MADEMOISELLE C, about former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief and fashion stylist Carine Roitfeld; and the Criterion Collection release of David Gordon Green’s 2000 directorial debut GEORGE WASHINGTON.

More later...

Sunday, March 09, 2014

GLORIA Gets Her Groove Back...Sort Of

Now playing at an art house near you, in my case the Colony Theater in Raleigh:

GLORIA (Dir. Sebastián Lelio, 2013)

Not to be confused with John Cassevettes' 1980 thriller starring Gena Rowlands (or Sydney Lumet’s 1999 remake starring Sharon Stone for that matter), Sebastián Lelio’s GLORIA is a Chilean rom drama that focuses on Paulina García as a 53 year-old divorcée getting her groove back...sort of.

García, who is well known in her native country for tons of TV roles and a few choice film parts, hits the nightclubs and dance clubs of Santiago looking for a new Mr. Right, but as in all such familiar scenarios she ends up making some questionable choices.

It could be thought of as a LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR for the geriatric set. It certainly could very well be remade by Nancy Myers with Diane Keaton as a quasi sequel to that take on the '70s singles bar scene, but I digress.

After some drunken meaningless nights, García begins dating a former Naval officer (Sergio Hernández), who is also recently divorced. In between some steamy sex scenes (this is not a movie for those who don't want to see old people having sex), Hernández is always on the phone to his two grown daughters who he won't tell he's seeing someone new.

García has two grown kids of her own (Diego Fontecilla and Fabiola Zamora), but they're way more independent that Hernández’s, who we only see fleetingly. Fontecilla and Zamora are dealing with their own relationship issues as we see in a family dinner so awkward it makes Hernández disappear - of course, via a phone call from his daughters he never returns from.

Our sometimes frumpy, sometimes vivacious lead puts herself out there fearlessly (full frontal nudity included), and you feel for her all through the highs and lows of new yet very hesitant love, even through the often sloppy and repetitive narrative.

With her almost comical over-sized clear glasses, García brings a lived-in reality (she's not another quirky film loser) to her portrayal of Gloria, a woman who just wants to re-discover her sexuality without the messy complications of youth. Of course, these complications never go away especially in the dog-eat-dog dating scene.

These depressing notions, such as everyone, old or young, makes stupid rash decisions in matters of the heart, ultimately don’t deter García’s Gloria in the end as she finds some empowerment in the form of a paintball gun.

When the music hits our heroine, by way of Umberto Tozzi’s 1979 hit song “Gloria” as sung by Laura Branigan, we see García come alive dancing alone in a club - yes, trying to let it loose to her own perceived theme song. She’s a lady on the verge of liberation, not quite with her thing together, but inching closer.

It has its glorious moments, but GLORIA, like Tozzi’s song goes, leaves us and its protagonist, “hangin’ on the line.”

More later... 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 3/4/14

It what might seem like a piece of finely tuned timing, but what's more likely a bit of luck, Steve McQueen's 12 YEARS A SLAVE hits home video today fresh from winning the Academy Award for Best Picture Sunday night. The acclaimed historical drama, which also won Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o) and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley) just like I predicted, is now available in 1-disc Blu ray and DVD editions. Special Features: a over 40 minute Making Of mini-doc entitled “12 YEARS A SLAVE: A Historical Portrait,” a 7 minute behind-the-scenes featurette (“The Team”), and a 4 minute bit about the music of Hans Zimmer in the film (“The Score”). Read my review from when the film first came out last year here.

The other heavy hitter out this week is Francis Lawrence's sci-fi sequel smash starring Jennifer Lawrence, THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE, in 2-disc Blu ray and single disc DVD editions. Special Features include an Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson, a 2 hour and 24 minute doc made up of 9 Making Of featurettes, a little over 4 minutes of Deleted Scenes, and, for some reason, a almost 7 minute Sneak Peak into the upcoming Neil Burger movie DIVERGENT.

Spike Lee's remake of Chan-wook Park's 2003 cult classic OLDBOY also drops today. I was among many that missed the film that starred Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson, as it flopped when it was released theatrically last Thanksgiving, but now we can all catch up with the release that's packaged with over 10 minutes of Extended & Alternate Scenes, The Making of Oldboy (17 min.), Talking Heads (2 minutes and 43 seconds of Cast and crew sound bites), something called Transformation (2:11), and a Workout Video (0:49).

Having never seen any of the FAST AND FURIOUS films, and being oblivious to him in anything else, Eric Heisserer's HOURS, also out today on Blu ray and DVD, was my first time seeing a performance by the late Paul Walker (I did see FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, but don't remember him in it). Walker puts in some admirable acting in this thriller set in a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, but the film strains unsuccessfully for whatever suspense it can think to wring out of its spare premise concerning a man trying to protect his just born baby. Special Features: “All I Feel Is You” music video by Safran and a PSA for Paul Walker's charity Reach Out.

Another B-movie available this week is Ruairi Robinson's sci-fi thriller THE LAST DAYS ON MARS, starring Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Olivia Williams. It's no great shakes, as most movies set on Mars usually go, but at least it's a watchable retread of tropes from classics like ALIEN, and THE THING. Special Features: “The Making of THE LAST DAYS ON MARS” (15 min.), “Analyzing the Visual Effects” (6 min.), Behind the Scenes Comparisons (4 min.), and AXIS TV: A Look at The Last Days on Mars (3 min.).

Other notable releases today include Richard E. Robbins' documentary GIRL RISING (only on DVD), concerning the global campaign for girls' education; Wong Kar Wai's Hong Kong-Chinese martial arts drama THE GRANDMASTER, Tze Chun's crime thriller COLD COMES THE NIGHT, starring Alice Eve and Bryan Cranston;  
Giulio Paradisi's 1979 psychological thriller THE VISITOR, and Jamie Payne's Doctor Who TV event THE TIME OF THE DOCTOR, which was the 800th episode of the long running British series, and the last to feature Matt Smith as the iconic character.

Also on the TV front there's Venture Bros: Complete Season Five, Oliver Stone's 2012 10-episode Showtime series Untold History of the United States, Mr. and Mrs. Murder Series 1, Agatha Christie's Poirot: Series 11, Ancient Aliens Season 5 Volume 2 and the seventh season of the classic '60s Clint Eastwood Western series Rawhide gets released in 2 separate multi-disc volumes (DVD only).

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Oscars 2014 Recap: Complete With Tweets!

I really enjoyed watching last night's broadcast of the 86th Academy Awards at the Rialto Theatre (pictured on the right) here in Raleigh. It was the first time showing the program for the 72 year old theater, and despite some lady cackling maybe a bit too much at host Ellen DeGeneres' schtick, it was a lot of fun to be in attendance.

I got my best Oscar predictions score ever, with only three wrong out of the 24 winners. I missed Best Documentary Feature which went to Morgan Neville's fine documentary about back-up singers, TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, because I thought since a music-centered doc (SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN) won last year, it wouldn't happen this time around. I had thought for sure Joshua Oppenheimer's powerful but hard to watch doc about Indonesian death-squad leaders,THE ACT OF KILLING, would get the gold. Oh, well. Can't win 'em all.

The others I got wrong were the Best Live Action Short (I guessed THAT WASN'T ME), and Best Costume Design, which went to THE GREAT GATSBY (I guessed AMERICAN HUSTLE, which won nothing).

I wasn't that disappointed that one of favorite films of 2013, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, didn't win anything because I didn't expect it to.

As for the rest of the show, here's some highlights from my live tweeting (follow @filmbabble) of the event last evening:

Ellen's monologue - not bad, about as risqué as she can get.

Best supporting actor: nailed it! Leto will next take on Jesus Christ Superstar.

Never caught up with what the hat means - Pharrell Williams-wise. 

2nd win for DALLAS BUYERS - setting it up for a major McConaughey moment.

Yes, MR. HUBLOT! It was the best animated short so I'm happy.

FROZEN - I picked it but still haven't seen it.

GRAVITY's first win for a tech award. There will be more.

Wow - HELIUM. Missed that. Oh well. 

Whoa - 20 FEET FROM STARDOM for best doc. Happy to be wrong here.


It's about time Tyler Perry got here.

Okay, U2 is U2-ing it up for a movie nobody has seen.

Biggest celebrity selfie ever?

I tell ya - every tech award goes to GRAVITY. 

Best shooter: GRAVITY again, of course. 

Whoopi will set us straight. 

Kelly Preston - still getting it done. @RealKevinBrewer * said that.

In memorial - decent picks n all - gotta end with PSH. 

John Travolta: "there will always be a place in my heart for really unrealistic hair"

Again GRAVITY. Yep. 

Damn, well maybe this bodes well for a 12 YEARS best pic win. 

Is this shaping up to be the most predictable oscars ever? Sure seems like it.

Seems like today everybody else is saying it was one of the most predictable Oscars ever, which it must have been if I got 21 out of 24 right! I was hoping for at least one big surprise, like, say, Jonah Hill or June Squibb winning, but it was a big breezy show that entertained me greatly. Definitely better than last year's Seth McFarlane mess.

* I recorded an episode of my friend Kevin Brewer's podcast, postmodcast, last week in which we discussed the legacy of the recently departed Harold Ramis, and chatted a bit about Oscar predictions. Please listen to it here.

I'll leave you now with my favorite moment from last night's big show:

More later...

Hey, I Finally Saw Neil Jordan’s THE GOOD THIEF!

Okay, so Neil Jordan’s THE GOOD THIEF, a 2002 heist thriller starring Nick Nolte, isn’t a classic, or even a movie that anyone’s ever made me feel guilty for having never seen, but it’s a movie that I’ve meant to get around to since its release 12 years ago, and was glad to see it available for streaming on Netflix Instant.

THE GOOD THIEF premiered in September of 2002 at the Toronto International Film Festival, just days before Nolte was arrested for drunk driving in Malibu. That is mostly remembered by folks by way of the infamous “mug shot,” which can still be seen as junk fodder on late night talk shows and internet memes.

The disheveled look of Nolte in that photo, wild hair and Hawaiian-shirt and all, was at odds with his well put together appearance in THE GOOD THIEF, Jordan’s 11th film as writer/director. Don’t get me wrong, the character Nolte portrays, Bob Montagnet, is a very rough at the edges guy who shoots heroin between intense smoky gambling sessions along the French Riviera, but the film wants to get across that he’s still got it going on - a young woman (Russian actress Nutsa Kukhianidze) says of seeing Nolte shirtless: “You look pretty good for a man your age.” Nolte replies: “What age is that?” Kukhianidze: “Stone age.”

Nolte’s self proclaimed “junkie gambler” is recruited by to mastermind a heist of a Monte Carlo casino, but they’re not after money, their score is a collection of original paintings from the Impressionist era worth more millions than what
’s in the safe. The new Japanese owners hang convincing forgeries on the wall of their casino, while the real ones are stored in a nearby underground vault.

Nolte’s plan involves his appearance distracting the security at the casino – all eyes are on him thinking he’ll rob the place – while his crew is stealing the paintings. “It’s like those paintings,” Nolte explains, “we’ve got a real heist and a fake.”

The film gets pretty flashy; more than one critic called it “stylish,” but underneath the freeze frames (sometimes in slow motion) and carefully staged shots, there’s an odd sense of humor at play. Of the members of his crew, there’s Julien Maurel as a trans-sexual muscleman, a dapper pair of identical twins (Mark and Michael Polish), and Serbian actor Emir Kusturica as security system genius/rock guitarist, all coming together to be the rag tag comic relief throughout the caper.

There’s also an uncredited cameo by Ralph Fiennes as a slimey yet suave art dealer but that doesn’t amount to much so let’s move on.

More than once, Leonard Cohen croons on the soundtrack, himself seemingly obsessed with gambling: “The ponies run, the girls are young, The odds are there to beat. You win a while, and then it's done…your little winning streak” (from “A Thousand Kisses Deep” from Cohen’s 2001 album 10 New Songs).

It’s a fitting dark little song that does its thing here. As does Nolte who glides into the film’s climax in a fine Italian suit with his hair slicked back. “To the limit, let’s get some chips,” Nolte says with confidence as he enters the heavily lit gambling palace as the proceedings get more and more heated.

THE GOOD THIEF is one of those gambling movies that goes against the oft quoted line that “the house always wins.” In other words, ultimately it’s a fantasy film. It wants you to root for an aging down and out gambler to have one last chance at a big score – and look great doing it.

It’s only a notch above being just a watchable time waster, but with Nolte playing his hand perfectly - I especially like his mini-speeches on art, religion, and rock ‘n roll - it’s a pleasing late night find on Netflix Instant. It seems like Nolte has been laying low lately
 - he hasn't had any major film roles, and the HBO show Luck, in which he co-starred with Dustin Hoffman, was sadly cancelled after one season because of the death of three horses. Here's hoping he'll get another film like this one to dominate, he's too often part of ensembles.

It's a shame that that damn DUI photo is better known than this film from the same year, but then Nolte might not have gotten the great juicy self-parodying part in Ben Stiller's 2008 modern comedy classic TROPIC THUNDER without it, so there's that.

THE GOOD THIEF was based on Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1956 French gangster thriller BOB LE FLAMBEUR, which is available as part of the Criterion Collection. I’ll get to that one day too.

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