‘The Family Fang’

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Starring: Christopher Walken, Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Marin Ireland, Eugenia Kuzmina, Jason Butler Harner, Michael Chernus, Josh Pais, Mackenzie Brooke Smith
Genres: Drama
Directed By: Jason Bateman
Runtime: 105 minutes
Studio: Starz Digital Media
MPAA Rating
R

Once in a while I see a movie that reminds me of a made-for-tv film but then about 1/2 way through, I really like it and take it back. This is one such film. The subject matter is on having quirky parents and being embarrassed bt them even into adulthood. The parents’ problem is not alcohol, philandering, or even physical abuse. Instead, its their constant inclusion of their children in video pranks and other created scenes they call “art.” The children all grown up are played by Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman. The film is also directed by Bateman.

In one of these stunts, their father and mother (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) drive all four of them to a public food court at a park. They hand out coupons for free chicken sandwiches and film the reactions at the food stand as people (in theory) become enraged when they are rejected.

There are many pranks and works of art that are shown in the film. Some take place as flashbacks when they were kids and others take place in modern times. This takes the storyline into pranks you can imagine fully experienced and aged pranksters might pull. Could it be the adult children are now the butt of the joke?

The film does get more cinematic and less made-for-tv but always carries an air that is just short of a powerful film. There are topics relating to abusive parents that may come up in a discussion afterwards if one cares to bring them up. It lost points for being such an unbelievable subject and having characters and plot that were difficult to identify with.

Weekly Roundup – Movies I Reviewed Last Week

I spent some time looking at older films like Planet of the Apes. I also got one new film in: Lights Out. Enjoy.

Barney Thomson

“Barney Thomson” is a film that tries to follow the convention of black comedy. In this case, a barber turns unwitting murderer. Unfortunately, it just isn’t dark or funny enough to keep ones attention.

Barney Thomson is a film that tries to follow the convention of black comedy. In this case, a barber turns unwitting murderer. Unfortunately, it just isn’t dark or funny enough to keep ones attention.

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Barney Thomson
The Legend of Barney Thomson (original title)
Cast

Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ashley Jensen

Directed by

Robert Carlyle

Written by

Richard Cowan, Douglas Lindsay, Colin McLaren

Other Info

Comedy, Crime
Rated R
1h 36min
Riley’s Rating:

Robert Carlyle is well known for his role in The Full Monty. That film is funny because it deals in the absurd reality of men stripping due to them all having lost their day jobs. He’s the leader by proxy of the dancing group and you relate with him because he’s broke and he’s found a way. As he makes money as a stripper, the story goes all sorts of directions and it’s a really fun movie all around. This film, Barney Thomson, certainly has the ridiculous factor, a barber turns murderer accidentally and just keeps doing it.

So we have the absurd story but where is the comedy? Is murder less funny than male burlesque? Maybe. I think it can be presented as hilarious. Take the Coen Brothers’ work for example. Fargo is a dark murderous laugh a minute. This film approaches that sort of black comedy convention but never truly arrives there.

Some have noted the strength of Emma Thompson’s performance. Indeed she does bring a credence to the black comedy being portrayed. When she comes on screen, you feel things lift, as if it’s going somewhere you could in theory like. Unfortunately, her role is just not big enough to save this film.

In summary: Barney Thomson is a story of a burned out mediocre barber who loses his job and then accidentally kills his boss. Through many misfortunate events he kills others. He is labeled a serial killer and there is a hunt by the inspector. There are a few side stories going on, some make sense more than others. For example, a female officer (Ashley Jensen) cusses at the actual inspector on the case a lot for no apparent reason. The film has its moments but I feel the error is in the script. None of the powerhouse actors are given much to work with. Finally, Barney himself never really does anything either. A serial killer should be a little frightening or a little relatable, one or the other. I enjoyed parts of the film but I’m afraid the film didn’t evoke the humor and disgust side by side enough to make it a hit I would recommend.

#WeeklyRoundup – Movies I Reviewed Last Week

Here are links to the movie reviews I posted last week. I broke my average of 3/week and did one more this time.

‘Chariots of Fire’

Running is an endurance sport. Not everyone who loves this true-story movie is a runner but it touches them because we all must endure day to day. This film is a metaphor for life, faith, and the importance (or not) of achievement.

*This review contains spoilers.

The story of Eric Liddell is an inspirational one. The music by Vangelis in this film works to elevate the audience to a higher place than most of us usually experience. After all, not all of us will run in the Olympics. The evocative message in Chariots of Fire is strong and timeless.

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Chariots of Fire (1981)
Cast

Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell

Directed by

Hugh Hudson

Written by

Colin Welland

Other Info

Biography, Drama, Sport
PG

There was a poster in my running coach’s office when I was in High School that read: “The agony for the ecstasy.” That is why serious runners do it. I didn’t run anymore but in my twenties I knew the ecstasy of it. Chariots of Fire displays it masterfully. The film’s true story and anthemic music touched a generation beginning at its 1981 release.

Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is the protagonist and he wants to win the olympic medal at any cost. He’s also a student at Harvard who is obsessed with running to run, second place is not good enough. As the Olympics near, he hears of another runner, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) vying to run in the Olympics. The difference with Eric is that he has a natural ability to run. Abrahams needs a coach and all manner of training to have a chance at winning. Liddell is also a Christian with high ideals. When he finds out the qualifying races are on a Sunday, he tells the committee he cannot run due to his Sabbath. This is the first time something like this ever happened to the committee so they hardly know what to do. Ultimately, they put Liddell in a different race category so he doesn’t have to run on Sunday. At the same time, Abrahams becomes tortured because he will never be able to prove himself against Liddell. This eats him up inside. 

The film is a psychological study of Abrahams. He is a “win at all costs” scrupulous fellow. Conversely, Liddell is a contented missionary in China doing the “work of the Lord” with his sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell).

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There are two speeches by Liddell: one sounds like a sermon and another like a funeral. In fact, the final speech is drawn from actual lines Eric spoke at Abrahams funeral in real life. While they were adversaries on the track, they did become friends. What’s the one thing you won’t do? If you can’t think of anything, you probably need to work on your integrity. Liddell’s live mat seem like a stoic life of service. Abrahams life may look more indulgence with a girlfriend, wine, and the finest of food while studying at the finest of universities. The irony is that Abrahams is always unsatisfied. He becomes jealous of Liddlell, not because he is a better runner which he is but rather because he is content and joyful. It tears Abrahams up that he himself lacks that calmness and self-acceptance.

The music by Vangelis is some of the most evocative and beautiful pop piano ever recorded. It has a synth drum sound which was only just beginning to be used in music. A combination of some ethereal sounds, the synth drum, and the analog piano made this music infectious. It showed up on the pop charts. As a personal anecdote, I was 11 years old when I saw this in the theater. My parents remained through the credits, an action they had never done up to that point and still haven’t since, just to soak in the incredible song.

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This is a British film for sure. Settings include London, Harvard, and a Scottish beach where the British Track Team runs. The beach run is one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Whether a person runs or not, this film applies to all of us. We see Liddell’s idealism contrasted against Abraham’s determination and grit. There is some of both in all of us. The question to talk about over coffee at the end is: “What would I stand up for?” The second question: “Who am I more like: Abrahams or Liddell?” They are the two poles on the spectrum. It’s a very tough question to answer. I think it’s clear Liddell is happier but I’ll leave that up to the viewer.

There is a scene at the beginning that has all the members of the British Olympic Track Team playing a game of cricket. Everyone fits except Liddell. He is off to the side and he seems out-of-place. As a missionary, I imagine he felt out of place with those guys. He says “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure. His character makes it a very spiritual film. Sadly, Ian Charleson died of Aids in 1990. He is also known for his roles in Ghandi and Tarzan, the Legend of Greystoke. His role as Eric Liddell remains his most popular role. The fact that he was probably not a Christian, though I don’t know if he was or not, goes to show what a great job of acting he did in Chariots of Fire. In a world where ideals seem less and less important, Eric Liddell’s life stands as a beacon of what integrity and sacrifice means. I’ve seen this film 50 times or more. I watched it again today to write this review. It’s one of the best movies ever made in my opinion. I recommend it to you.

‘Demolition’

Have you ever tried to put something broken back together again? How about a heart, stricken by grief. That may be what is happening in this film. That would explain a lot.

*This review contains spoilers.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Chris Cooper star in this film that may be better watched in a therapist’s office than in your DVD home theater.

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Demolition (2015)
Cast

Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper

Directed by

Jean-Marc Vallée

Written by

Bryan Sipe

Other Info

Drama
Rated R
1h 41min

I like most of Jake Gyllenhaal’s movies. They are usually a bit left of centre. Enemy was one of the strangest endings I’ve seen in a long time. I also adore Naomi Watts in just about anything she has starred in. The Impossible is one of my favorites. Chris Cooper is also a legend and a treat to watch. With all three of these in this film, you’d think it was an amazing piece of work, you’d think. There is a lot of fun going on here but, as is customary for Gyllenhaal, it’s odd fun indeed.

The story summary is as follows: Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is stricken with grief and apparently in denial after the death of his wife in a horrible car accident they were both in. Instead of grieving by taking off work and showing sadness, he decides to return immediately to work much to the dismay of his late wife’s father, played by Chris Cooper. It’s odd how he is so okay after the accident. What’s more, he seems preoccupied with the way things are put together. He is obsessed with taking household items like appliances apart and assembling them. I told you about the odd part. He meets Naomi Watt’s character and they start a sort of relationship. This doesn’t get much tread because he is usually rebuilding things or breaking things with a sledge-hammer. There is an interplay between Gyllenhaal’s character and his newfound girlfriend’s son. This oddly takes the film in a different direction. The boy suspects me might be gay and seems to draw strength from breaking things apart too. One thing I should note about Gyllenhaal’s character is that he really seems askew, almost “touched.” It’s endearing to watch him go through healing stages if you assume that is what is happening but his character’s outlandish actions of grandiosity discount his realism. He needed to be more human more of the time.

jomovie13 - Stills from the movie Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis##########jomovie13##########CATHEY-KERIS FILMS

I take this movie as an abstract map for grief. When you go through such a terrible loss, it breaks you apart. It leaves you to pick up the pieces and put yourself back together. I think someone going through grief could find some solace in this film. Sometimes you have to break down to build yourself strong again. This is an interesting and possibly therapeutic film but as a typical box office movie, I felt it was just short of the mark. It didn’t feel like a movie. Instead, it felt like a gesture from someone like a director seeking to help those going through grief. That isn’t a bad thing it’s just not a movie thing for me, too simplistic and not interesting enough subject matter. And again, Gyllenhaal’s character was not real and not believable enough for me to care about him.

You could start a cult with this film. It teaches self-actualization through destruction. There is a lot you can do with destruction, we all want to know what’s inside things. Sometimes it’s tempting to break them open and see it immediately. I think if one looks at the movie as a therapy session, it will make sense and one can have a good experience watching it. If one can’t buy my reading and doesn’t have a framed purpose for this plot, it will get extraordinarily boring very quickly. To close, I’d say it works on one level but not another. People who have been through grief are more likely to enjoy it. For those not interested in grief or the psychological study of it, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

‘Star Trek: Beyond’ – Don’t Blink on This Ride

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Starring: Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho

Genres: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Directed By: Justin Lin

Studio: Paramount Pictures

MPAA Rating
PG-13

I saw Star Trek: Beyond last night on its second night after release. When I see Star Trek films, I usually miss some secret winks because I am not much of a “Trekkie” and therefore don’t know the labyrinth of secret passageways that many others I meet new. In fact, my wife, who is not a film critic, explains a lot to me when we go to see these films. Last night had a few parts I couldn’t figure out but I’ll avoid those.

Instead, I’ll tell you that Captain Kirk is put in a position to save the galaxy (common theme). The adventurous quest to do that is a rip-roaring ride! Directed by Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious), the spaceships are now the race cars. There is a lot of action in this film but I must disagree with some other critics who are saying it’s too fast and furious. There are moments of suspense as well and moments where the viewers is ban rest, stop, and get cerebral..

The visuals are stunning. Because this is a quick review intended to have “no spoilers,” I won’t describe them to you. I will say that in 1977 when Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, and Mark Hamill saw the death star for the first time, it had a mind-blowing effect on movie goers. There is actually some stuff in this film that will leave you in “shock and awe” in a similar way. Please note however that the plot is pretty good and special effects are secondary to that, which always makes me happy.

There is so much in this film worthy of the ticket price. There is a side story Spock is dealing with, sense that virtually fill the movie with the now departed Anton Yelchin, a Smokin’ hot Zoe Zaldana, a vaguely funny Simon Pegg (but funny all the same.) I had a blast watching this film. I anticipate Trekkies will like the new villain Krall (Idris Elba). He’s a tortured creature with a lot of hate for the federation which makes for some really juicy fight scenes. I did have some issues with the film. Instead of developing the villain they sort of catapulted him into hate mode. I wanted to know more about him and why he became who he was. It was explained a little in a very rushed fashion in the last 1/4 of the film but I think doing that earlier would have invested me more in his character. For the haziness of the villain, I took one star away. This is an amazing film, I highly recommend it.

‘Good Kill’

Ethan Hawke gives an amazing performance of grounded pilot trapped in a box, unable to escape his fate.

*This review contains spoilers.

This thriller moves a bit slow but builds the suspense until you get the point like a tidal wave: War is hell whether “in theater” or via joystick.

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Good Kill (2014)
Cast

Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz

Directed by

Andrew Niccol

Written by

Andrew Niccol

Other Info

R
1h 42min
Drama, Thriller

Writer/Director Andrew Niccol has an impressive resume: 2014 Good Kill, 1998 The Truman Show, 1997 Gattaca, and more. Good Kill is just the latest impressive project he’s done. It deals with the individual conscience amidst a system that goes against it.

Major Thomas Egan, Ethan Hawke, is a grounded pilot. He has become part of a secretive force that controls drones in Afghanistan by controls resembling that of an XBox. He is stationed in Las Vegas and goes to kill every day in a portable room of sorts where the remote equipment is kept. There are many rooms like this. In fact, Egan is not alone in his daily kills. He has a team with him.

In charge of Egan’s team is Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood). Being a huge fan of his, I was glad to see him in this role. I liked the character because he wore his heart on his sleeve. He shared his difficulties with the drone kills they were doing. Still, he never breached his orders and did what he was told from his commander.

Egan starts regretting what he has to do every day. He begs the Colonel to put him back in the plane but that seems like it will never happen. Egan starts seeing rape and murder happening and he is told to stick to the orders. He is told the rapist “is a bad man but not their bad man.” He is ordered to let him be.

Events like this and others like collateral damage he witnesses cause profound strain on Egan. He starts drinking and neglecting his wife and kids. From there we starts to see him crumble and we learn through his story what this sort of remote warfare can do to an individual.

This film is done very well. The obvious comparisons to XBox games like Call of Duty are there but it’s more about real war I think. How many of theirs do we have to kill until they stop killing us? Is this sort of warfare that is going on now in real life actually protecting us from terrorism? So many questions like these are raised in this film. I would have liked it if they gave more background on his type of warfare and showed the connection to video games. It was alluded to that there is a connection but seeing that as part of the story would have sent a stronger message to the young men and women out there who get vehemently into these games. Because that connection was not explored much, it lost a star for me. I still think this is one of the better films of 2014, I recommend it.

‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

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‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)
Cast

Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

Directed by

Franklin J. Schaffner

Written by

Michael Wilson (screenplay), Rod Serling (screenplay)

Other Info

Adventure, Romance, Sci-Fi
Rated G
1h 52min

Writing this review now in 2016, I was shocked to find this film had a G rating. As a kid growing up 0-10 in the 70’s, I remember certain images from this film that used to creep me out. Plus, it’s so rare that you find a G rated sci fi nowadays. I didn’t understand it in those years but when I hit my twenties, this was one of those films my scooter buddies and I would rent along with other classics like The Godfather and Blade Runner to just trip out on and talk about. It’s of course a timeless classic now and there has been a resurgence of the franchise with a whole new set of CGI movies that are surprisingly good in a different way.

The concept of the franchise is pretty simple: Apes have evolved above man and use him as their slave. In the 60’s the evolution arguments were rampant of church and university grounds so this fit right in with that. Actually seeing these apes likely had a polarizing impact on the religious folk who saw man as greater tha ape. At the same time, I think it infused strength to the IMG_0626argument that man was just another animal and we shouldn’t rule over animals in the sometimes harmful ways that we do. BUt that is just the “ape level.” There is much here about science and faith. In the original film, there is talk of “scrolls” and “heresy” by the humans and apes who help them. f you know Christian subculture or have observed it, these references are accurate and quite funny.

I love the prosthetic masks in the movie. They look camp at first but you really get used to them after a while because the costumes and backgrounds are so masterfully crafted. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode for good reason: Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, co-wrote the screenplay. This movie is something to look at. Most the outdoor footage was filmed at Lake Powell. It resembles Mars or some other uninhabited planet. In this film, a crew was sent into the future but something went wrong. As a result, they have to try to survive and escape from a civilization of apes that speak and are much like intelligent humans.

While there among the apes, they see the effects of man’s greed and imperfections. The apes have an opportunity to see themselves as well but they are not as interested. There is a bit of a “not-friendly” history in the scrolls and therefore humans are not to be listened to.

Charlton Heston plays the lead human, George Taylor, and he is so much fun to watch. He has interaction with a slave who cannot speak and there is some chemistry there but hardly enough to call the story a romance, as IMDB does. Roddy McDowell plays Cornelius, the scientist ape that buys in to the intelligence of humans. His partner Zira, played by Kim Hunter, is devoted to humans as much as she can be in her society. It was sort of like a Jane Goodall and the chimps kind of thing. At the end Taylor asks her for a kiss and she says shyly, “But you’re so ugly.” That is a fun scene because it’s an opposite scene. If you recall the Twilight Zone episode when the woman is in face bandages the whole episode and at the end you find out they are trying to make her ugly, she is actually beautiful. It is in the eye of the beholder. Serling loves taking structures apart and letting the audience put them back together, or not. Planet of the apes is one of the most classic examples of his style in doing that. We may not question our own systems but if we see an ape and an actor talking, maybe we cab deconstruct theirs and return smarter, changed for the better. Most of all, this movie is for the open-minded or those who are open to becoming more open-minded. *raises hand*

Speaking of being open-minded, the stunts in this film are about as real as an outdoor rodeo during the clown show. When Taylor gets sprayed with a firehose, you see every sinew in his neck flexed. I love his over acting. The movie is meant to be serious sci-fi but watching some of these stunts makes you think of the comedy of later decades like Airplane or Scary Movie. Other props and effect in the film are almost comical in their representation of seriousness. There is a cadaver in the space pod that looks just like Norman Bates’ dear fake looking mummified mother in Psycho. My point is not to jeer or belittle these poor effects but rather to praise a film that evokes such a powerful response from so many people worldwide in spite of these simple stunts and props. Once again it is proof that directors don’t need a palette of CGI to make a film popular with audiences. This film evokes a response and takes itself seriously. If you have a good story, this film proves that is just about all you need to make a hit.

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In conclusion, I had a lot of fun going to see this film recently in the theaters through Fathom events’ TCM series. I was just as entertained as I have been with any recent films I really liked. I know almost every director out there has seen this film but I hope they can start to follow its movie making wisdom more closely. We need less CGI (done badly, I don’t mind it when it’s done well) and more good story surrounded by people with passion and the desire to evoke an audience response.

The Green Inferno (2013)

“I can smell it. My God, I can smell my friend being cooked.” -Lars

Some cannibal footage is Nat Geo, other is embarrassingly faked, and yet other footage is so well done it’s scary. “The Green Inferno” is a cannibal movie done so well, Nat Geo may purchase clips for its nature show.

The Green Inferno (2013)
Cast
Lorenza Izzo

as Justine

Ariel Levy

as Alejandro

Daryl Sabara

as Lars

Directed by
Eli Roth
Written by
Guillermo Amoedo, Eli Roth
Other Info

Adventure, Horror
Rated R
1h 40min

We are all such idealists after we graduate from high school. People often enlist in the Peace Corps when they want to make a difference. And there are those “groups” at colleges. Remember those how hand out leaflets and say things like “Don’t think, ACT?” This film starts out on a college campus where a group of activists are recruiting fresh meat.

The leader is intense and so are his followers. They want to stop illegal cutting down of trees in the rainforest. Basically, a group of college kids end up getting on a plane to protest the illegal cutting down of trees. They have an impact but the true plot is what happens when they are captured by a tribe of cannibals.

It’s amazing and scary to watch the scenes at this point. Much attention to detail has gone into making the viewer believe these people are being sauteed and eaten. Justine (Laura Izzo) does a great job as the protagonist. She learns some hard lessons as a result of going on the trip. There are others that didn’t make it who may or may not have learned lessons as well.

This is a graphic, bloody, unapologetic film. There were times I got chills of fear but I never could turn my eyes away. This film took a lot of work to make happen. The cannibals seem like real cannibals. The director did a really good job assembling them and getting them to tell their part of the story through acting. It’s a truly great horror movie. I recommend it!