Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fruitvale Station

Tonight I saw Fruitvale Station, starring Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #124, so tune in next month for our review.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Way Way Back

This morning I saw The Way Way Back, starring Liam James and Toni Collette.

Duncan (James) is a socially awkward teenager on summer break with his mother Pam (Collette) and her jerk-of-a-boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). They land in a sleepy beach town where Trent has a community of colorful friends.

Not wanting to have any part of 'family time,' Duncan escapes to the nearby water park where Owen (Sam Rockwell) gives him a job, and more importantly, a sense of place. Owen is a misfit in his own right, annoying his colleague/girlfriend Caitlin with his immature behavior. Owen and Duncan make each other better.

Rockwell is especially good, portraying a fun-on-the-outside, yet broken-on-the-inside man. As an actor, Rockwell is criminally underutilized, but here at least, he gets to support the leads with some depth.

James is also great as the nerdy boy, loved by his mother who is too preoccupied with her own relationship to show it. Collette and Carell, who played a very different couple in Little Miss Sunshine, have a familiar chemistry that allows them to convince us of both their infatuation and discomfort.

There's not much more to this film than the standard coming-of-age argument scenes, awkward family moments and kinda-sorta first loves, but that's okay, because it's so easy to watch.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Conjuring

Today I saw The Conjuring, starring Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga.

Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) are a real-life married couple, famous for their paranormal investigations. Ed passed in 2006, but Lorraine is still going strong at 86 at corroborates the true story, which this film tells.

In the early 70s, the Perron family moved to a remote farmhouse in the Rhode Island countryside in hopes of beginning an idyllic life. Instead, their beds began levitating and a rancid smell filled their rooms at the same time each morning.

Not affiliated with any church, and fearing for the safety of their five young daughters, they sought the help of the Warrens who lived nearby in Connecticut. Lorraine, who is clairvoyant, immediately detected the presence of spirits during her first visit and after studying historical records of the property, identified them. I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say they weren't the nicest entities to have around.

Carolyn (Taylor), who was the mother of the family, seemed to be the target of the spirit's angst, and briefly became possessed, causing all kinds of chaos. Taylor is perfect for this role, because she evokes such a nurturing "mom" presence anyway. Here she gets to show that off and go buck wild crazy under the spell of this demon. I enjoyed her performance most of all.

Farmiga plays the legendary Warren very understated, which is true to the real woman's behavior. Wilson is also convincingly "ordinary" as Ed, demonstrating both deep love for his wife and a sincere quest to rid this poor family of the energies that torment them.

As a standard horror film, the story here works on many levels: the narrative is packed with enough logic to pull you in and the surprises are jumpy enough to bolt you out of your seat.

This is a good one folks; and not just for paranormal geeks like me.


Sunday, July 21, 2013


This morning I finished reading The Reenactments, a memoir by Nick Flynn.

There are memories from our lives that we're desperate to re-live every day; then there are those we'd love to bury forever.

Flynn's memoir bravely chronicles the latter, as he recounts the filming of Being Flynn, a movie based on his earlier memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.

His life was not ordinary: raised by a single mother in a Massachusetts beach town, his taxi-driving, alcoholic father was not around to see him grow up. Once he had grown up, his mother had committed suicide and his father was without a permanent address.

A lost soul in many ways, Flynn ended up with an addiction problem of his own, and was reunited with his father only when he began working in the shelter where his father sometimes slept.

He struggled with the loss of his mother as he tried to navigate his way through his 20s and maintained a complicated relationship with his dad; all the while becoming the brilliant writer that he is today.

This book shares in great detail what he felt like when each part of his existence was played out for the big screen, with Robert De Niro in the role of his father; Julianne Moore acting as his mother and Paul Dano representing him.

What's magical in the way he tells it is how capable he is of communicating surreality.

One can only imagine what it must feel like to watch real people behaving the way that people within your reality once behaved, right down to specific conversations—let alone the most traumatic stages of said life. Flynn somehow captures that, with his unique style of writing that reads more like short bits of poetry than prose, yet remains completely accessible.

Though much of it is painful to read, my hope for the writer is that by putting those words to paper, some therapeutic healing occurred that will allow him to move past those memories.

Flynn's courage in this raw retelling is nothing short of admirable.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The East

Last night I saw The East, starring Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgard.

Sarah (Marling) is an undercover operative, working to learn the identities of a dangerous anarchist cell targeting large corporations. Benji (Skarsgard) is the magnetic leader of the group. They have all of the necessary talents for such a production (a doctor, a hacker, a beautiful girl, etc,) and live off the grid as they plot their next assault. They call themselves The East.

Moving in with the group, Sarah quickly adapts to their hippie existence and learns about the reasons behind their violent crimes. Though she doesn't condone their methods, she starts to see the group members as human beings and begins to develop true friendships with them.

All the while, she's doing her job and reporting back to home base every time the bunch plans a "jam" (their word for "attack").

The tension builds well here. Sarah's flirtations with Benji could get her closer to him (and possibly change the course of the plans) or they could backfire and blow her cover. The audience is in the dark.

Skarsgard and Marling command the camera with their natural ease and Ellen Page is all too convincing as the annoying righteous member of the tribe that can't see both sides of the issues.

I enjoyed the pace and intent of the film, if not the somewhat predictable ending and formulaic story arcs.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

More Than Honey

Today I saw the documentary More Than Honey, about the rapid decline of the world's bee population.

A frightening statistic—that 1.5 million bees have disappeared in 27 U.S. states in the past 15 years—serves as a catalyst for the extensive research that makes up this film.

Director Marcus Imhoof journeys to several faraway places to try and solve the mystery of why this species is dying out so quickly. He follows expert beekeepers John Miller and Fred Jaggi as they investigate their own work and try to make sense of the unknown, but their guesses are as good as ours.

Really, it could be anything (or a number of things), which may or may not include pesticides, global warming, invasive mites or even stress. Yes, there is such a thing as "bee stress."

Whatever is causing it needs to be figured out as soon as possible, though, because without bees to pollinate everything under the sun, we as humans will be without a food supply.

Scary, eh?

Though the film does a good job of showing us how it all works (from the mid-air mating of the bees to the glorious pollination of the flowers to the beekeepers transporting the bees to their locations for "work" and ultimately draining their honey), there really is no concrete theory put upon the viewer as to why the bees are disappearing, or how we could work together to stop it.

Not a lot of buzz for a message that really stings.


Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Lone Ranger

Yesterday I saw The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.

Not a big fan of Westerns, I'll admit I went primarily because my visiting mother loves Johnny Depp and I knew this was something she'd want to see. Luckily, there was enough of him to keep us both engaged.

To set the stage..

John Reid (Hammer) is an anti-violence attorney in the old west, where his brother is a successful captain in law enforcement.

He gets into a series of sticky situations alongside Tonto (Depp), an Indian (as they called them in those days). Eventually, Reid is the last man standing in a terrible ambush with the bad guys, led by Butch (William Fichtner), making him by default: The Lone Ranger.

The scenes are painfully long, but the acting is presumably great, and Hammer is endearing as the naive accidental hero. They made him more bumbling than I remember the Lone Ranger from my childhood (re-runs of the old black-and-white series were common in our house), but he pulls it off well, all things considered. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't smile the first time the iconic theme music ramps up during one of the chases.

Of course Depp nails his role too, as a sarcastic, smart native of the land—the brains behind the operation—and in many ways outshines everyone else (as he typically does).

The film, however, is much bloodier than it needs to be, and the action scenes have almost as much breaking glass as Man of Steel. It's unnecessary, and it wastes a lot of time.

Did I mention this film is just shy of 2.5 hours long? Well, it is, and it doesn't need to be.

That pretty much says it all.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Man of Steel

This afternoon I saw Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill and Amy Adams.

Nothing can top Christopher Reeve as the iconic Superman, but kudos to Henry Cavill for trying. He's not bad, after all, but the screenplay sure is a mess.

We start with Superman's birth on a planet that isn't earth, with Russell Crowe dressed something like his Gladiator character and a woman screaming in maternal pain. I'm still with it at this point, but rapidly fading.

Superman grows up (with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as adoptive parents) and suppresses his gift, with a few impulsive exceptions (like lifting a school bus out of a river following an accident). Pulitzer Prize-winner Lois Lane (Adams) later catches on to his powers and his secret is out (in modern-day fashion, she leaked the story herself).

This doesn't bode well for her when the bad guys from his planet come to collect on his DNA, etc. and she's dragged along for whatever reason. 

At this point, I was craving the simplicity of the Superman movies I loved throughout childhood and making a game of counting how many times broken glass crashed during the action scenes (when I got bored of counting, I think I was up to 14).

Though the screen is coated with top-list talent (the guy from House of Cards; the guy from West Wing; the guy from Take Shelter)—and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy when Stabler from Law and Order: SVU showed up—their presence does not a good movie make.

The last (lengthy) half is all action and very little of it is exciting. There isn't a lot of fun or humor and only a trace of romance is to be found between the two leads.

This was a big, showy, loud, action-packed disappointment, which happened to be full of some of the best players in Hollywood.