Thursday, February 26, 2015

Neko Case & Mike Nesmith Talk REPO MAN For Film Acoustic: Part 2

This is part 2 as the conversation between Neko Case and Mike Nesmith at the Carolina Theatre in Durham following a screening of REPO MAN earlier this week was so enjoyably rich with insights that I wanted to give it more space (click here for Part 1). For the second installment of the new series, Film Acoustic, the acclaimed singer/songwriter Case had chosen the 1984 cult classic, being one of her all-time favorites, to screen, and invited its executive producer, Nesmith, who you also may know from a little band he was in called the Monkees, to discuss it and other related topics with her.

Here, Nesmith speaks about the Monkees' sole film project, the possibility of a REPO MAN sequel, and whether or not popular singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett had a cameo in the film.

Nesmith on HEAD, Bob Rafelson’s 1968 psychedelic masterpiece starring the Monkees: “It’s actually a masterwork. And whose masterwork it is, is Jack Nicholson’s. When HEAD came about, it was, I don’t want to build too much – take it on fact, that the movie Bob and Bert (Schneider) had decided to do, HEAD, as a kind of assisted suicide for the Monkees and they hired Jack to come in and help them. ‘Cause they wanted to kill the monster. The monster had turned on them.

They had been praying for the little wooden boy to come to life and suddenly it did, and it scared the hell out of them so Geppetto was going to throw the marionette off the bridge. Well, okay off the air, but what do you do in that particular case with the music? What do you do with what that film is about to become? And Jack was able to bring the music into that film in such a way that it satisfied what everybody wanted out of that movie, that wanted anything out of the movie. And instead of killing the monster, it imprinted it forever on the history of film. And there it is, there it jolly well is.

Bob tells this story in the commentary of the movie’s Criterion release of HEAD where he says that Jack and him were sitting around loaded, and Bob gets dark and Jack said ‘what’s going on?’ ‘I’m thinking about the blackest, darkest thing in the world.’ And Jack said ‘well, what would that be?’ And Bob said ‘Victor Mature’s hair.’ And Jack said ‘that’s it! The whole movie takes place in Victor Mature’s hair!’ I thought Jack had one of the greatest dope riffs I ever heard!’ But he took that and suddenly he made it all work around that music.”

Nesmith on his favorite line in REPO MAN: “‘The life of REPO MAN is intense’ is the fulcrum. That’s talking about intensity, it’s talking about what happens to you when you watch the movie – it’s intense.”

On Alex Cox having the rights to the screenplay to REPO MAN: “Now Alex has the right to make a sequel if he wants to.”

Milazzo: “If he rang your phone and said ‘hey, would you like to jump on this journey again with me?”

Nesmith: “No.” (audience laughs) I know, it sounded flip but no. It’s not because it was a bad experience because that’s not…I’m not sure that there is a sequel to REPO MAN. I think REPO MAN is a whole complete thing.”

Case: “I’d be really sad if they made a sequel.”

Nesmith: “Yeah, I’m kinda following you in on that. He wrote the sequel called “Otto’s Hawaiian Holiday.” (audience laughs) Just as funny as you think it is.

Questions from the audience Q & A:

Audience member: “The last scene, or near the end, with the guy that says ‘I love my job’ and they bring out a book, I think I remember that being a copy of ‘Dianetics’ but I didn’t quite pick it up in the movie…”

Nesmith: “I’m so glad you asked me that, because it’s one of the funniest jokes in the movie and nobody sees it!”

Audience member: “And I just watched BATTLEFIELD EARTH yesterday!” (laughter)

Nesmith: “You see, and this is an example, like how we got the generic food, they’re not gonna let us use Dianetics!” So Alex calls it ‘Diaretics’!

Another audience member: “Jimmy Buffet is credited as one of the blond agents, which one is he?”

Milazzo: “Where’s Jimmy Buffett in this film?”

Case: “Did they make that up?”

Nesmith: “No, no – Jimmy was there.” (audience laughs)

Case: “You guys planted this stuff like they’re little landmines that are just gonna keep going off for years and years.

Nesmith: “Nobody planned it. They just fell off the truck and landed some place.”

Case: “Jimmy Buffet’s on the lot.” (laughter) “Do we have a size 44 blazer? Show Mr. Buffett in.” (more laughter)

Nesmith: “That’s exactly what it was. That very thing. He and I were sort of friends, and hanging out, and was ‘what are you doing?’ “Shooting REPO MAN,’ ‘oh I want to come to the set.’ Alex said ‘do you want to be in the movie?’ and handed him a blazer and a pair of sunglasses. And he is part of the team when they set the body on fire that’s on the park bench, he’s one of those guys and if you look at it – he’s standing by the back of the van. That’s Jimmy.”

Nesmith on the legacy of REPO MAN: “Alex and Peter were all frustrated by the way that movie got distributed, and what happened to it in the public’s mind. The fact that it has gotten some traction, and there are people who love it, and people who really get it, is nourishing. 

Case: “And I’m thinking that it probably made more money than GREYSTOKE: LEGEND OF TARZAN that came out that same year.” (audience laughs)

Nesmith: “Actually, that’s my favorite movie, GREYSTOKE: LEGEND OF TARZAN.” (more laughter)

Milazzo: “Goes without saying.” (even more laughter)

The next Film Acoustic is a real doozy: Frank Black from the Pixies Presents Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL, another favorite film of mine, on Thursday, March 19th. Tickets are on sale now.

More later...

Neko Case & Mike Nesmith Talk REPO MAN For Film Acoustic: Part 1

Film Acoustic, the Carolina Theatre’s new series which pairs special guests with their favorite movies, went down in Durham earlier this week on Monday evening, February 23rd, which was luckily the night before the big snowstorm hit the Triangle area. It was an event that was highly anticipated and didn’t disappoint: Neko Case presents Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic REPO MAN, with Very Special Guest Mike Nesmith.

Unlike last month’s program with Lucinda Williams, there was no music played but the discussion with the two fine musicians, Case and Nesmith, who was the Executive Producer of REPO MAN, after the film was lengthy and incredibly engrossing (it may have been too lengthy for my wife, but that’s another matter). 

The last time I saw REPO MAN It was on its 25th anniversary on the big screen in the Cool Classics series at the Colony Theater (read my post about it from back in the day), and I enjoyed seeing it again. I think it’ll always hold up as Cox’s weird, funny curio and it has one of the greatest soundtracks ever.

After the screening, a video of Case’s was shown, “Maybe Sparrow” from her excellent 2006 album “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,” then Modern School of Film founder and Duke graduate Robert Milazzo introduced Case, who was greeted warmly by the Fletcher Hall audience.

Case spoke about seeing REPO MAN and how it reflected how scary it was as “a 14-year old who grew up in the Pacific Northwest” living in the Reagan/Cold War era. “People look back now and talk about Ronald Reagan like he was this really beloved President, but people fucking hated that guy,” Case explained to some clapping from the crowd. “People thought George W. Bush was funny, nobody thought Reagan was funny.” 

Case went on about the film: “I looked for myself in everything as well, and I never could find a female. And in this movie, the female characters are all just like fragments of women. Kind of like the men are fragments of men, like nobody’s a complete character. It’s very cartoony, which makes sense since Alex Cox drew a comic book strip first.”

After Case talked about how she “knew a lot of boys exactly like Otto,” how New Wave was the death knell of punk, and that this was the first time she’d ever seen REPO MAN on the big screen (“I’ve only seen it in rooms with shitty Christmas lights”) moderator Milazzo introduced Nesmith who walked from the back of the theatre to huge applause. My wife leaned towards me and said, “that’s a Monkee!”

Milazzo gave the interview over to Case, and they revealed that this was a continuation of their three hour conversation at lunch (Case to Milazzo: “We cheated on you with each other…in a restaurant”).

Here are some highlights from Case’s talk with Nesmith:

Nesmith on the inception of REPO MAN:
“I had just finished doing a movie called TIMERIDER. Harry Gittes and a friend of mine, Bill Dear, who I’d been working with for a while, directed that movie. And I made friends with Harry, and Harry was working over in Jack Nicholson’s office at Sony, and this script came across the desk, and he called me up and said ‘you’ve got to see this.’ So he sent it to me, and I read it, and I said ‘this is great! What do we do?’ He said ‘well the studios are going to make this picture but I thought maybe you would be interested in doing it as a independent producer.’ I said ‘well, let’s talk to the guys.’

So they set up a meeting with Alex, Alex Cox, and Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy to his office. And I just went over, and, you know, at that point I was in the middle of kind of a roll-off of my artistic endeavors and so forth. Come off a bunch of albums at RCA, was done with the Monkees, it was, you know, everything was kind of behind me, and TIMERIDER had not been successful either in theaters, or artistically, it just hadn’t quite worked like I wanted it to work. But I had financial freedom because my mother had left me a lot of money, she died in 1980, and I was knocking around looking for something to do, in terms of how to keep going as an artist, because I figured it was over for me at that point.

So when I met them in Harry’s office, I was in a frame of mind which was, I thought maybe what I could do is help get this movie made somehow, and if I can do that, what I should do, not that I can, but what I should do is not mess with it. I shouldn’t try to fit this into some sort of mold. What I could provide as a kind of role where I could stand between the filmmakers and the studio, and the filmmakers could do the film they wanted to do, and the studio would get either delivered to them a product that they could quantify somehow.”

Nesmith on the screenplay: “It was like free association origami. I mean, I knew it was not gonna turn into a swan, but it was folded up somehow; everything had a point, it had a way of referring and closing up loose ends and so forth.”

Nesmith on the original ending: “It was supposed to end with Otto as a Salvadorian rebel. And Marlene and the Rodriquez brothers were really sort of the American conscription for South American rebels.”

Case: “And that’s why you see her in her Che Guevara outfit.”

Nesmith on revisiting the movie: “When I watch this movie, and this is the first time I’ve seen it with an audience in 30 years, as it develops along, one of the things that’s outstanding to me about it, and it just holds, is that it is a comedy that doesn’t have one gag in it. They don’t play anything for funny. Even ‘let’s go get sushi and not pay,’ he reads that line flat! And Alex never cuts tight on the generic food cans, you can barely see it say “food,” he’s eating food. And the standard play, the TV play, the formula play is cut, cut on “food,” so people go ‘ho ho, it’s food.”

Nesmith on the ending they used: “Alex called me up at some point, and he said ‘you know, I’ve been doing this movie now so, and I still don’t know how to end it, but I think something’s happened with Miller *. I think he’s come forward as a fulcrum, a kind of nexus of the film.’ And I thought, ‘this is genius. This is smart. This is right. What are you gonna do?’ He said ‘I don’t know. But can I have some money for special effects? I think I want the Malibu to glow.’ I said ‘that’s a great idea.’ ‘Can I have some money.’ I said ‘no.’ Million eight, that’s it. ‘I’ve got to make it glow for a million eight.’ So he went out and bought the reflective tube they use on the highway, and painted the whole car with a brush. And shot green lights on it – that’s what you see in the film! That was great filmmaking.”

Nesmith on what was in Otto’s can of “food”: “Corned beef hash.

Nesmith on the killer punk soundtrack: “The soundtrack ultimately redeemed the film financially - it made money.”

Case: “Which is my favorite story about the movie.”

Nesmith: “It came out, Universal released it and put it in one theater in Boston, where it played for a year. And that was it! We were done, we were toast. And so we, you know, slumped shoulders and went home, and then suddenly, Universal people at music said ‘holy crap, look at this soundtrack!’ And they put it out and it sold 5 times what soundtracks sell, which was not a huge number but was enough to get us attention.”

Nesmith on nearly contributing the score for EASY RIDER: “Dennis (Hopper) said ‘would you be interested in doing the music?’ So I came up with some sort of thing, it was like a cross between Memphis horns and cherry pink and apple blossom pie– it was some stupid idea, about I would use brass band in sections, and I realized that I didn’t have a sense of this, I didn’t have any idea. And he looked at me and he was courteous, which was kind of a first for Dennis, and he was ‘okay, good’ and I was out! And then the next thing you hear is “If 6 Was 9” by Hendrix, and you realize ‘okay, they created a whole other world that I could’ve massively fucked up with cherry pink and apple blossom pie.’”

Nesmith discusses one of my favorite films ever, the Monkees' movie HEAD, a possible REPO MAN sequel, and much much more in Part 2.

More later...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bad Timing For BATMAN

Months ago, the Colony Theater in Raleigh (where I work part-time) booked Tim Burton’s 1989 superhero hit BATMAN for Wednesday, February 18th, for their Cool Classics series. The Colony’s General Manager Denver Hill told me that it was timed for the lead up to Michael Keaton winning a Best Actor Oscar for his acclaimed role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BIRDMAN.

BIRDMAN - full title: BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE IF IGNORANCE) - is undoubtedly Keaton’s comeback to the mainstream, albeit in an abstract indie project, in which his character is an actor aching for a comeback via a shaky Broadway production, after being written off as the star of a superhero franchise.

As its Best Picture Oscar win on Sunday attests, BIRDMAN has a lot more going for it than that meta-aspect but re-visiting the classic Keaton performance that made that angle possible was the agenda for the Colony’s revival screening of BATMAN, and I was excited as I haven’t seen it in over two decades.

To plug the event, I wrote it up in the Film Picks column in the Raleigh News & Observer, and put together a slideshow of behind-the-scenes pics for the Examiner to further promote the show.

But a week ago, the day before the screening, we got hit by what they call a wintry mix that blanketed Raleigh in ice and snow. As a result, only 40 or so people braced the elements to come see Burton's late '80s fan favorite take on the Dark Knight.

We were disappointed that the weather so affected the turnout so Denver made plans to have an encore presentation the following week on Wednesday, February 24th.

In the meantime, despite the film and director Iñárritu winning, Keaton lost the Academy Award to Eddie Redmayne (for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) and so the idea of the BATMAN screening celebrating Keaton’s win was, of course, no longer a thing.

This was very surprising as the odds so seemed to be on Keaton to win. I, like many, had predicted such.

And, as the internet has pointed out, Keaton himself thought he had it in the bag as he can be seen tucking his acceptance speech back into his jacket in this clip that’s, of course, gone viral:

When I shared this clip with Denver on a Facebook chat he said: “Jeez. That is sad. But it’s kind of fitting. Seems like a scene from ‘Birdman.’”

It does indeed seem like a postscript for Keaton’s self put-upon character Riggan Thompson.

But what’s also sad is that the Colony’s encore BATMAN screening is again the victim of bad timing as we were hit by another snowstorm today.

Do Mother Nature and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences both have it in for Keaton or what?

Whatever the case, I’m still planning on revisiting the man’s breakthrough lead in BATMAN - whether or not I do it by bracing the elements on Wednesday night, or by putting on the DVD at home, as of this writing, remains to be seen.

More later...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscars 2015: Oh, How Wrong I Was

For a while, during the broadcast of the 87th Academy Awards broadcast, which I watched at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh (pictured above) last night, I was getting every category right as per my predictions posted last Friday. But my winning streak ended approximately halfway through after 14 Oscars were given out, when my pick for Best Editing, BOYHOOD, was beaten out by WHIPLASH. After that I lost 4 others (see below) including the biggest one, Best Picture.

I was happy that BIRDMAN and its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, won (the film was my #2 favorite of 2014), but I was really rooting for BOYHOOD, and Richard Linklater to take home the gold because I thought it had the slight innovative and emotional edge going for it. 

As for the show itself, first-time host Neil Patrick Harris did a good job starting with his intro - “Tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest -sorry brightest” - and the opening song and dance number (especially the Jack Black bit) was one of the stronger ones of recent years, but he wasn't given the best material to work with, something many are blaming on Oscar Head Writer Greg Berlanti, who's so not a comedy writer.

I enjoyed Lady Gaga's tribute to the 50th anniversary of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, the “Everything is Awesome” (from the otherwise snubbed THE LEGO MOVIE) production number (featuring amusing appearances by Tegan and Sara, The Lonely Island and Questlove!), and the acceptance speeches by Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette, IDA director Paweł Pawlikowski (glad this win may get more people to see the striking IDA), and director Iñárritu in particular.

But I wasn't a fan of NPH's running gag about his Oscar predictions being sealed in a briefcase, locked in a clear box onstage, with his recruiting previous Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to keep her eyes on it throughout the show - the supposed pay off really didn't result in big laughs. I also was disappointed that Joan Rivers, who I tweeted “was in a lot of films, even directed one (a big flop but it starred Oscar fave Billy Crystal)” and SNL's Jan Hooks, who also appeared in a lot of movies including a pivotal part in PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, were left out of the In Memorium segment.

Anyway, here's the 5 Oscar predictions that I got wrong:

Best Picture: BIRDMAN

Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne. 

Yes, Keaton was robbed, but Redmayne's humble giddiness at winning was a little touching and funny, and his performance as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING was solid, even if I wasn't so hot on the film. But, again, yeah, it would've been really sweet for the 63-year old Keaton to have finnally gotten that bigtime recognition.

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Best Editing: WHIPLASH

Best Original Screenplay: BIRDMAN

Besides BIRDMAN, the other big winner of the night was THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, which won 4 Oscars. Now, those I got right.

Well, that's it for this year's Oscars. 19 of of 24 wasn't so bad, and I got a few surprises. Now back to watching movies for fun and not for sport.

More later...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mike Leigh's MR. TURNER: Very Pretty, Witty, But A Trifle Lengthy

Now playing at a indie art house near you:

MR. TURNER (Dir. Mike Leigh, 2014)

Timothy Spall, best known as Peter Pettigrew aka Wormtail in the HARRY POTTER series, grunts, groans, and gropes his way through Mike Leigh’s 12th film, a biopic about 19th century English Romantic landscape painter, printmaker, and watercolor master J.M.W. Turner.

Spall’s seventh film with Leigh, which is the third period piece for the director (TOPSY TURVY, also featuring Spall, and VERA DRAKE were the others), concerns the final third of the controversial artist’s life during the very stuffy, snobby Victorian age.

Spall’s Turner, who we first see in silhouette on the horizon capturing the Dutch countryside on his canvas, spends his time between masterpieces tending to his ailing father (Paul Jesson), occasionally taking sexual advantage of his housekeeper/assistant (Dorothy Atkinson), and travelling to the English seaside village of Margate where he has a secret life loving his landlady (Marion Bailey).

There is also the matter of his extremely angry ex-mistress (Ruth Sheen) and their two grown-up daughters, who Turner neglects while telling others that he has no family.

Although intricately constructed and politely paced, the first half of the film can be a bit of a slog, but it’s worth sticking with as there are many rewards in the concluding chapters.

Although he pisses off the prissy critics of the day and even the Queen, Turner is presented as a misunderstood pioneer who foretold the abstract impressionalism movement of the early 20th century, was welcome to the invention of the camera, and is fascinated when his friend, scientist Mary Somerville (Lesley Manville) shares with him her experiments with an optical prism.

It is clear throughout that Leigh, who wrote the screenplay, is not only attempting to recreate the era via immaculate costumes (which got an Oscar nom) and sets, but is also using the big screen as a canvas to recreate Turner’s paintings via Dick Pope’s vivid cinematography (which also got a well deserved nomination).

Leigh’s fine film also got a nomination, again deserved, for its score composed by Gary Yershon, which while restraining itself from the customary historical epic sweep, gives a gentle grace to some of the film’s greatly affecting quiet moments.

Spall’s performance is Oscar worthy itself, even if most people might only experience the grotesque grumbling of an ornery curmudgeon. The Shakespearean-trained actor brings both great pathos and an animalistic appetite to the role which is impossible to ignore – even though the Academy did. That Spall studied and actually learned to paint, much like Ed Harris did in POLLACK, no doubt enhances his very lived in portrayal.

MR. TURNER is a very pretty and witty, but it certainly is a trifle too lengthy. Many of its vignettes could be trimmed - the fact that it’s an hour into it before his father dies indicates how long it is before the movie gets going – and some of its shots, as beautiful as they are, could’ve been shorter.

But overall, it’s the best of the British Oscar bait biopics out this season (take that, THE IMITATION GAME and THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING!). It will most be appreciated by Leigh fans, and those who love movies about art and artists. As I’m a big fan of both of those myself, you can see where I stand.

More later...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hey Kids! Funtime 2015 Oscar Picks!

Yep, here we go again. The 87th Academy Awards Ceremony is this Sunday, February 20th, so it's time for Film Babble Blog's official predictions to be posted.

Now, last year I got 21 out of 24 right - my best score ever - but this year I find myself really wanting to be wrong about some of these. I would love some surprises, some upsets, to shake things up this time. I want to see first-time host Neil Patrick Harris quipping between categories about some unexpected thing that just happened. Even NPH says he's “hoping for a scandal.”

Anyway, on to my picks which go something like this: 


This is battling it out with BIRDMAN (which I wouldn't mind winning as I loved it too), but my money is on Richard Linklater's 12 years in the making epic about life, love, and time. It was my #1 favorite film of 2014 so I'm way biased, but it feels so right.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater for BOYHOOD

3. BEST ACTOR: Michael Keaton for BIRDMAN

I'm biased here too because I love Keaton and thought he did an incredible job as actor Riggan Thompson/Birdman. Hard to believe the guy has never been nominated before - I think he should've been for CLEAN AND SOBER back in '88. Eddie Redmayne for his performance as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING seems to be the major competitor, but, c'mon! It has to Keaton

4. BEST ACTRESS: Julianne Moore for STILL ALICE



And the rest: 

7. PRODUCTION DESIGN: Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL









16. ORIGINAL SONG: “Glory” from SELMA - I'd actually prefer “Everything is Awesome” from THE LEGO MOVIE to win because I'm not a big fan of Common's song, but SELMA should at least win something. Then again THE LEGO MOVIE got snubbed too so we'll see.









There's no way I'm going to do as well as last year, so like I always say: Tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

More later...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 2/17/15

I haven't done one of these posts in a while, but as a few of today's new releases on Blu ray and DVD are notable Oscar-wise, I thought I'd give it another go.

First up, there's Alejandro González Iñárritu's BIRDMAN, which is going neck and neck with Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD in the Best Picture race right now. Whichever film takes home that coveted Academy Award next Sunday night, Michael Keaton deserves to win Best Actor for his dual role as actor Riggan Thompson and his alter ego, his gravelly voiced inner Birdman. Edward Norton and Emma Stone also received nominations, as did cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for his amazing camerawork that captured the narrative in extremely immersive extended takes. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely one to catch up with before this Sunday. Available in both single disc Blu ray and DVD editions. Read my review from last October.

Special Features: A 33 minute behind the scenes featurette entitled “Birdman: All Access” (subtitled “A View from the Wings”), A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (14 min.), and Gallery: Chivo's On Set Photography (3 and a half min.)

Another Best Picture nominee, James Marsh's Stephen Hawking biopic THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, which I hope doesn't win anything, drops today in 2-disc Blu ray and single disc DVD sets. Don't get me wrong, Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as his wife Jane (whose book the film is based on) put in performances that are charmingly solid, but the film itself a bland piece of Oscar bait. Special Features: Commentary by Marsh, Deleted Scenes, and a 7 minute featurette (“Becoming the Hawkins”).

Bill Murray's turn as the title character in Theodore Melfi's ST. VINCENT (not to be confused with the art rock singer/songwriter) didn't get an Oscar nomination, but it's a likable lark nonetheless (my review). Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts also star in the comedy drama about Murray's schlubby, boozing Brooklynite befriending his 12-year old neighbor (Jaeden Lieberher). Special Features: An almost 20 minute featurette, “Bill Murray Is St. Vincent: The Patron Saint of Comedy,” consisting of the Q&A session from the Toronto International Film Festival with Writer/Director Melfi, Murray, McCarthy, Watts, Chris O'Dowd, and Lieberher; and a bunch of brief deleted scenes.

It was a real surprise to me that Steve James' excellent Roger Ebert biodoc LIFE ITSELF (my #3 film of the year) wasn't nominated for Best Documentary, but that shouldn't stop the film from making lots of new fans as it releases today in both single disc Blu ray and DVD editions (it's also available for digital download on all major online platforms, including AmazoniTunes, Youtube, and Google Play). Read my review from its theatrical release last summer). Special features: Over 20 minutes of deleted scenes (essential viewing for Ebert fans), an almost 11 minute interview with director James, “AXS-TV: A Look at LIFE ITSELF (2 min.), the Sundance Tribute from when Ebert posthumously received the Sundance Vanguard Award in June 2013 (7 min.). Those last two bits of bonus material have a lot of shared footage with the actual film so they're less essential. 

Also out on Blu ray/DVD this week: Tommy Lee Jones' weird Western THE HOMESMAN,
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's killing Kim Jong-un action-comedy THE INTERVIEW (doesn't the controversy over this look even sillier now?), the Farrelly Brothers' 10 years in the making (not really) sequel DUMB AND DUMBER TO, and Paul Schrader's horrible Nicholas Cage thriller DYING OF THE LIGHT (I've seen it and yes, the 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't lie).

More later...

Monday, February 16, 2015

KINGSMAN: A Good Popcorn Picture Until The Popcorn Runs Out

Now playing at a multiplex near you:


(Dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2014) 

In Matthew Vaughn’s fifth film, an adaptation of a graphic novel series by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, the writer/director outfits the world of James Bond in the cartoonish formula of his KICK ASS films. That is to say, there’s a lot of stylized violence with a high body count, a ton of glib one-liners, and constant attempts at meta-commentary.

A suave, dapper Colin Firth (when is he not suave and dapper?) stars as gentleman spy Harry Hart (codename: Galahad), a member of “an independent, international, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion.” Firth is well cast as the mannered British badass, and at first, especially in a scene where he lays out a bunch of brutal youths in a pub, it's a blast to see him in the part.

The slick scenario concerns Firth’s Hart recruiting Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the son of one of his late colleagues, for the elite squad, but first the young London street-tough has to compete with a bunch of smug, better-bred candidates, and, of course, one friendly female (Sophie Cookson), for the same position.

A lisping Samuel L. Jackson plays the super villain they’re training to defeat, an internet billionaire named Richmond Valentine who’s planning on wiping out most of the world’s population through a mind-controlling cellphone app.

For roughly half of this film’s running time I was going along with its poppy charm, but a scene in which Firth, affected by the villain’s violence-inducing app, goes on a murderous rampage and slaughters a church full of hate-spewing, redneck fundamentalist Christians in Kentucky (clearly modeled on the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas) set to the four-minute guitar solo in Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Free Bird,” really lost me.

The in-your-face unfunniness there sadly set the tone for the rest of the film, which involves the customary infiltration of the enemy’s secret lair (located inside a snow-covered mountain), and much more gratuitous murder in the form of hundreds of heads exploding in the form of rainbow-colored fireworks.

None of this is as witty, clever, or exciting as it wants to be. James Bond satires, homages, or imitations have been around as long as the iconic series itself, and after the likes of Maxwell Smart, Derek Flint, Matt Helm, Johnny English, Austin Powers, and dozens of others have done it to death, KINGSMAN brings nothing new to the table.

Even CARS 2’s secret agent subplot that had Michael Caine voicing an Aston Martin had more Bondian bite than this. Caine is also on hand here as the head of the Kingsman, bringing a little gravitas to the proceedings but not much else. Also along for the ride is Sofia Boutella as Jackson’s henchwoman Gazelle who has CGI-ed bionic blades for legs (one of the few entertaining elements on display), Mark Strong as the Kingman’s gadget and weapons specialist (you know, like Bond’s Q?), and Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill) as a British climate scientist that Jackson kidnaps early on.

It’s a fine cast, but Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman’s screenplay isn’t equipped with enough flashy fun for a whole film. What starts out as a tongue-in-cheek spy comedy romp ends up resembling a rowdy kid just sticking its tongue out at these well worn conventions. And that's about as funny as Jackson's lisp, which sure didn't make me laugh.

KINGSMAN is only a good popcorn picture until the popcorn runs out - the cringe-worthy church scene being where that happened for me.

More later...

Friday, February 13, 2015

STILL ALICE: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at art houses, and a few multiplexes near me:

STILL ALICE (Dirs. Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland, 2014)

Julianne Moore is a front runner to win the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alice Howland, a Columbia University linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, in this touching, emotionally stirring drama opening today at an indie art house near you. 

As this is Moore's fifth Academy Award nomination, it does indeed feel like it’s her time, but she really deserves it as this the best work I’ve ever witnessed yet from the actress who hails from my home state.

We first meet Moore’s Alice, her research scientist hubby John (Alec Baldwin), and some of their family - their doctor son Tom (Hunter Parrish), lawyer daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth), and her nice-guy husband Charlie (Shane McRae) - as they are celebrating her 50th birthday at a posh New York restaurant. Except for a brief instance of confusion, Moore appears vibrant and happy among her loving spouse and grown-up, well to do children.

Then we see her giving a speech as a guest lecturer at UCLA, in which she blanks on a certain word. After she returns home, she panics because gets lost during her routine run around an area that’s normally well known to her, the Columbia campus.

These lapses of memory disturb Alice so fearing she has a brain tumor, she visits her Neurologist in serene scene that captures Alice in an unbroken close-up answering her unseen doctor’s questions. He asks her to have a loved one, her husband or a close relative accompany her the next time she comes in, but she doesn’t feel this is necessary when she returns.

The neurologist, now seen as Stephen Kunken (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, The Affair), tells her that after tests, including a PET Scan, the symptoms sadly corroborate that she has early-onset Alzheimers, and the news hits Alice and her husband hard.

The shaken couple gather together their son and daughters, which also includes Kristen Stewart as the youngest, an aspiring Los Angeles-based actress, to tell them about their mother’s diagnosis, and to let them know that there’s a 50 percent chance that each of them could inherit the gene.

From there we experience Alice’s devastating progression into what she calls “hell” – “It feels like my brain is fucking dying!” A painful subplot has her recording an iBook video for her future self to find in which she gives instructions to swallow a bottle of pills in order to commit suicide.

A large portion of the film concerns the relationship between Moore’s Alice and Stewart’s Lydia. Now, I understand there’s lots of hate out there for Stewart, but having no bias myself (largely, I bet, from not having seen any of the TWILIGHT movies), I thought she did a really good, genuinely affective job here.

Early in the film it is established that Alice disapproves of her daughter’s decision to pursue acting. Later, when the mother’s mind is failing, she attends a play Lydia is performing in and when the family meets up after, Alice has forgotten that this woman she watched on stage is her daughter. Moore’s reaction, along with Stewart’s processing of what’s happening, when Bosworth informs her mother who she’s talking to is one of the most moving moments I’ve seen this last year on screen.

In another affecting scene, Alice tries to explain her ordeal to Lydia: “I’ve always been so defined by my intellect, my language, my articulation, and now sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them and I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.”

Based on the bestselling debut novel by Lisa Genova, STILL ALICE is not to be confused with any sort of Lifetime disease of the week TV movie melodrama. Directors/writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s sharply written screenplay features a tightly crafted narrative with an intensely real feeling tone; there’s no schmaltzy sentiment, nor any pandering creepiness. Even Ilan Eshkeri’s spare score, mostly made of quiet piano tinkling, is tastefully unobtrusive.

Moore and Baldwin have displayed great chemistry as a couple before on Tina Fey's NBC sitcom 30 Rock, but they are real, fully fleshed out people here not those comic concoctions, and they are as convincing as can be. Baldwin braces himself for the worst with his wife’s predicament, with none of his trademark smugness present. It’s a soft spoken, and affectionate performance, that ranks with his best, albeit in a small sideline role to the tour de force that Moore delivers.

Although this year has other worthy candidates, including Marion Cotillard for TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT and Reese Witherspoon for WILD, for what Moore pulls off in STILL ALICE, put me down for pulling for her to win.

More later...

Friday, February 06, 2015


This last week hasn’t been a good one for me in the big ass 3D CGI-ed fantasy film dept. I had the displeasure of donning the annoying plastic glasses for screenings of two duds: The Wachowskis’ newest sci-fi flick JUPITER ASCENDING, and Sergei Bodrov’s medieval adventure SEVENTH SON, both opening today at a multiplex near you.

Despite admiring the first MATRIX movie, and enjoying segments of CLOUD ATLAS (co-directed by Tom Tykwer), I can’t say I’m a big fan of The Wachowskis’ canon. Yet I appreciate that they do have a distinct, undeniable vision, and the fact that their latest isn’t based on a book, graphic novel, video game, or any pre-existing entity of any kind did appeal to me.

But the story, involving Mila Kunis as Jupiter, a lowly maid scrubbing toilets in Chicago who learns that she’s alien royalty, never came together amid its strained set-pieces and overly talky passages.

Channing Tatum, sporting pointy ears and eyeliner as he’s a “splice” of wolf and man, plays Kunis’ protector/love interest. Tatum, whose appearance reminds me of John Candy’s half man, half dog SPACEBALLS character, seems to not have completely shaken off his stoical Marc Shultz persona from FOXCATCHER, which leads to some charisma-less exchanges with Kunis.

Eddie Redmayne, Oscar nominee for his role as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (itself nominated for Best Picture), plays the villain, Balem Abrasax, who wants to kill Kunis and harvest the earth – what else? The Wachowskis have surely taken a queue from STAR TREK in making their villain all Shakespearian, and Redmayne, whose every line of dialogue is either whispered or screamed, left no piece of scenery unchewed.

A centerpiece action sequence over the skyline of Chicago – Tatum has these anti-gravity boots you see – was one of the most cluttered and unexciting chases I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of cluttered and unexciting chases in the last several years.

Sadly, The Wachowskis’ effort here recalls the worst of sci-fi fantasy in film; the intergalactic cities, landscapes, and costumes are nearly identical to the imagery and aesthetics of the lame ass STAR WARS prequels, and the cosmically convoluted scenarios are straight out of the notorious king of sci-fi flops, BATTLEFIELD EARTH.

JUPITER ASCENDING is a generic looking space opera that is without gusto or invested invention. Worse of all, Kunis looks really bored. That might be me just projecting, because I know I sure was.

Now quick, before it leaves my brain, let me see what I remember of Bodrov’s SEVENTH SON, which I just saw last night but is evaporating rapidly. Based on Joseph Delaney’s young adult novel “The Spook’s Apprentice” (I can see why they changed that), the film stars newcomer (well, new to me) Ben Barnes as the seventh son of a seventh son who joins the grizzled Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges in another very “undude” later day role) in hunting down a witch queen played by an energetic but not entirely convincing Julianne Moore. Here’s hoping this misappropriation of her talents doesn’t overshadow her vastly more essential, and Oscar nominated work in STILL ALICE (opening in my area on Feb. 13th).

Now I love Bridges, and seeing him reunited with his BIG LEBOWSKI co-star Moore did give me a little bit of a charge, but his character, a crochety blend of Gandalf and Rooster Cogburn, isn’t very imaginatively written or acted. The old coot even mumbles “fuckin’ witches” when exiting the room at one point. Maybe after winning the Oscar for TRUE GRIT, the guy decided he doesn't need to try anymore. Hence crap like R.I.P.D. and this.

Barnes, with his bedhead and spare stubble that makes him look like an indie rocker or a boyfriend on Girls, has little or zero presence. He blends into the background of battles with witches that turn into dragons, and is even upstaged by Bridges’ ogre servant (John DeSantis).

Awful special effects, the badness of which is enhanced by the fiercely unnecessary 3D conversion; atrocious dialogue, sloppily edited swordplay, and incompetent pacing make SEVENTH SON a dreadful, dreary slog. Even their attempts to scare with random monsters, dragons, ghosts, and even a bear screaming right 
in-your-face didn’t keep me from almost nodding off.

So, that’s two genre pictures that really didn’t gel for me, getting released in the cinematic off season of February. As that’s roughly four hours of bloated CGI-saturated fantasy blather that I’m so glad is over, here’s hoping neither will be successful enough to spawn a sequel.

More later...