Review: Movie 43

Review: Movie 43

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You might be wondering why I even decided to give anthology Movie 43 a whirl, considering it has a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. 4%. The reviews have been wholly unkind, yet this film was still appealing to me. Why? I think it was the cast and the trailer that was cut to maximize hilarity. And Chris Pratt. Love Chris Pratt.

Movie 43 boasts what can only be described as a powerhouse ensemble. Kate Winslet (shown above), Emma Stone, Greg Kinnear, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Justin Long, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Naomi Watts, Chris Pratt, Anna Faris, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Uma Thurman, Stephen Merchant, and Halle Berry are just some of the cast members.

The movie is told in vignettes, with an over-arching framework story that we cut to and away from every couple of sketches. The quality of these vignettes is uneven, but none are particularly good. Each vignette has an entirely different cast (I don’t think there was one bit of crossover) and directed by a different director (Elizabeth Banks, Peter Farrelly, James Gunn, and Brett Ratner are some of the directors).

Honestly, these vignettes are no worse (and possibly better!) than a lot of SNL’s current skits in the post-Fey, post-Wiig universe. Just like SNL, the stories go on too long, way past the point of the setup being funny any longer. Each skit is basically only its setup; once the gimmick erodes, they keep harping on the same elements to produce laughs. Or not produce laughs in most cases.

Take the vignette starring real-life couple Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts. The schtick is that they bully their home-schooled child so that he will have an authentic high school experience. The first several clips in the montage are funny or funnyish, but the longer takes seem stale (and we are only 3 minutes in!). Halfway through the skit, your mind wanders away from you and you start thinking about your grocery list.

I think the strongest segments are the “Blind Date” vignette starring Merchant and Berry and the “Picnic” vignette starring another real-life married couple, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris. However, the comic talents of these four fine actors cannot save these segments from weak structural underpinnings and an over-reliance on ‘gross out’ humor.

I feel like the Farrellys are living in an Apatow world. Although Apatow has had limited success writing complex female characters, that seems to be changing (thanks in part to Girls cohort Lena Dunham and Apatow’s own comic genius wife, Leslie Mann). I think the Farrellys’ situation is most comparable to George A. Romero. Romero is the undisputed godfather of the zombie sub-genre, but the contemporary maestro is Danny Boyle (or some would say Zack Snyder). The Farrellys found fame in the gross out comedy genre, but Apatow really revolutionized it and gave it back its humanity.

Anthologies are usually produced in the horror genre. Horror is known for not having an over-abundance of plot or character development, so you can get into the setup and started getting scared immediately. While many horror anthologies ultimately fail, this is probably the best atmosphere for a filmmaker looking to direct a segment of an anthology.

The romantic comedy genre has had very dubious success with the anthology. New Years’s Eve (which may be more of an ensemble piece than a true anthology, admittedly) has a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I really enjoyed Paris, je t’aime, which I felt mainly consisted of solid work, but felt really let down the unevenness of New York, I Love You. More city love story anthologies are planned: Shanghai, I Love You, in 2013Jerusalem, I Love You in 2014, and Rio eu te amo in 2015/2016.

Not Recommended (except maybe for ardent fans of SNL or for a particular actor in the ensemble)

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Review: Future Weather

Review: Future Weather

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Future Weather was a film that intrigued me ab initio. It seemed like a perfect counterpiece to Take Shelter, the Michael Shannon breakout explosion. While Future Weather is more of a family dynamic piece and less cerebral (and definitely less supernatural) than Take Shelter, they share commonalities.

I always love supporting women filmmakers, and Jenny Deller does a fair job in her first feature. Her other main credit, a short entitled “Save the Future,” serves as both a prologue and trailer to the feature.

Lili Taylor, as a mentoring teacher, is completely and overwhelmingly spot-on in each scene. I can be very lukewarm on Amy Madigan (e.g. I love her as Hannah’s mom on HBO’s Girls, but did not care for her in That’s What I Am), but she was the perfect blend of no nonsense and nurturing in her role as Greta. Any film centered on an adolescent actor can be unnerving, but newcomer Perla Haney-Jardine’s no-holds-barred acting sets up her for primo roles in any future YA dystopian novel movie adaptation that she chooses.

One of the best elements of the film is Haney-Jardine’s Lauderee, who is the film’s protagonist. An aspiring ecological scientist and environmental activist, Lauderee wants to change the world around her, but she is often ill-equipped with the tools to do so. Being a middle schooler, she doesn’t know how to filter her passion as not to alienate those around her. Her lack of tact and diplomacy is not without consequence, and she gradually learns to tamper her tongue without diluting her zeal.

Any film that promotes Marie Curie types over the Kim Kardashian trope is worth a look, even if the film is not without its faults.  A little unnecessarily slow in parts, the film has wonderfully understated pacing issues. Aside from a few pacing problems, I found this gem to be quite palatable.

 

Recommended for fans of Another Earth, Tumbleweeds, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Recommended.

Note: The short film “Save the Future” is available on DVD.

 

Jessica Chastain is incredulous as you are that she got roped into this mess.

Jessica Chastain is incredulous as you are that she got roped into this mess.

Review: Mama

Mama is a new film that was presented/produced by Guillermo del Toro after he saw the very short film on which this feature is based; he did not direct it. I feel like a lot of audiences are confused by that title. You can’t imagine how many people I’ve come across that just swear that The Orphanage (El Orfanato) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (which at least del Toro did write) were both directed by del Toro. I’m not sure I like this tactic by production companies because I feel it is somewhat dishonest and misleading and I can’t really blame anyone for being confused.

Anyway, the film is engaging enough but certainly nothing special. I was incredibly distracted by Jessica Chastain with dark, cropped hair acting very punk. It seemed a bridge too far from her, and if you’ve even seen the trailer, you will see what I mean about this being a big stretch.

The film is vaguely reminiscent of a 2003 horror film about the tooth fairy called Darkness Falls. This is not a complimentary comparison. Hate horror films or mysteries that fall apart in the third act? You’ll want to take  pass on this one.

The cinematography and lighting was absolutely terrible. I think it was so purposefully dark so you could put yourself in the protag’s shoes and feel scared in a dark room. However,  it was so darkly shot in several scenes that you couldn’t tell what was going on. On at least four occasions, I had to rewind the scene a bit to see what scary event happened because it was just too dark (think Alien v. Predator 2, if someone made you watch that at knifepoint). At times I felt I was only listening to certain scenes and it really took the “oomph” out of what were supposed to be some of the stronger and scariest sequences.

A cool bonus on the DVD was the entire short film on which this feature was based. del Toro introduces the short and there is also optional commentary available.

The DVD cover is a good indication of the darkness levels in the movie actually. Until I actually had the DVD in hand, I thought the little girl on the cover is holding onto a wooden door (spoiler alert: she’s not).

While I’ve seen worse, this is not a cogent enough film for me to recommend.

Non-spoilery thoughts on World War Z.

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Something hit a nerve with me tonight at my increasing dissatisfaction with Hollywood. I’m going to use my experience tonight as a springboard into this rallying cry. Usually it’s James with calls to action, but I figure I’m overdue.

Tonight James, Ross and I saw World War Z. I’d been following the reviews on my RSS feed for weeks now, and was pleasantly surprised they were overwhelmingly positive. 

It’s proof Hollywood can make a decent Blockbuster film. It reads more like Contagion than Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, which should hearten you. The pacing is excellent, the characters (those that are developed) are interesting, the music is good (can’t have zombie films without Muse, for more info, see my facebook note from 2008 or so stating such), and the cinematography is surprisingly astute. 

The film is not gorier than it needs to be and doesn’t play for cheap scares. One of my pet peeves with the horror genre is how laughs or funny moments will undercut the tension in some of the scariest scenes. This does not happen here, yet the film never takes itself too seriously as evidenced in the few moments of levity. I’d expect no less from Brad Pitt’s Plan B Production Company, but I think it’s difficult to reconcile in one’s mind that WWZ isn’t just a solid film for the zombie sub-genre, it’s solid overall.

While certainly not for everyone, if you even remotely think you will like or enjoy it, you probably will. I’m not trying to express that WWZ is the Citizen Kane of Z-flicks, because it isn’t and it’s not without its flaws.

That said, we need to ensure Hollywood keeps making more high-caliber action/thriller films for us to enjoy during Blockbuster season. Tell these movie moguls to take their prequels/sequels/threequels/midquels/shriekquels/remakes/screamakes/reboots/gorenography and to shove it.

If people deserve the government they elect, then audiences deserve the media we’re given. We have to stop settling for sludge or Hollywood will keep doling it out to us like farmyard critters to slurp from our industrial-sized troughs. 

I still believe in the power of the pocketbook. Vote with your dollars. Go out there and see the films that deserve to be seen. Tell Hollywood that we’re “mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

 

If you’ve seen the film, listen to the analysis over at Slate’s Spoiler Special podcast.