Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Article first published as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on Blogcritics.
At a time of enlightenment about Autism, this film sheds a realistic light that’s not always easy to watch.

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was directed by Stephen Daldry, known for The Reader, Billy Elliot, and the Hours. It has been advertised as a stunning, avant garde movie centering on how the 9-11 tragedy affects one family. It centers around Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a nine-year-old boy who is hell bent on discovering a remnant of his father’s past. His father is Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), a jeweler, who dies in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The last remnant, as it were, he has left behind for his son is a cryptic key. Oskar finds in a vase in the closet after his father is dead. He is from then on driven and fixated on finding the lock that the key opens. This generates a plot of pseudo adventures meeting all sorts of people and devising all sorts of elaborate schemes along the way. What about the twin towers? That was my burning question most of the movie. Make no mistake: this film is not so much about 911. Instead it is more akin to a public service announcement for Asperger’s syndrome, or some garden variety diagnosis of a tortured genius nine year old. Oskar Schell apparently has license to scream horrible words at his mother, (Sandra Bullock) because of his unique disorder. He rolls on the floor, bangs his hands against furniture, and shows utter frustration when his “genius” ideas are thwarted. I could get into the unrealistic amounts of time he is alone to carry out his adventures but I won’t. I also won’t get into the ridiculous cussing exchanges (equally implausible) he has with the security guard (John Goodman) of his building as he comes and goes. I don’t think this movie is meant to be realistic, it’s up to something else. I am not sure I know what it is. It is definitely hard to follow. Fortunately, we can find some compassion for the boy and that held my interest for some of the film.

Of course, anyone would have sympathy for Oskar. He lost his father who was seemingly his best friend to the tragedy we now refer to as 9-11. Still, it doesn’t excuse his disdain for his mother and the strange fixations he leaps headlong into to find the origin of the key. Along the way, he meets a nice, quiet (mute in fact), man who rents a room from his grandmother. He is aptly called “The Renter” (Max von Sydow). He accompanies Oskar on his key expedition which is very difficult because the old man cannot speak. In a way, the renter is best suited to Oskar: he never talks back. The renter is Oskar’s long lost mute grandfather and ironically becomes the only voice of reason. In my opinion, Max von Sydow gives the most compelling performance in the movie. I must add also that there isn’t much competition.

Oskar is very taken with his own “clever” ideas and likes to tell people about them with every opportunity. His lines are annoying and they are delivered with an equally unsettling voice. There isn’t much more to the story than Oskar finding the lock for the key. The mystery’s end is not exciting and he doesn’t seem to advance much in is grieving process for his dad.

I think this movie failed to impress me because it was not about what it advertised. A movie can get away with that when it is such a powerful film you forget you were cheated by the ads. In my opinion, this movie used 9-11 as a “bait-and-switch theme to get people into the theater. There is only minimal reminiscing about the tragedy. On the other hand, the movie centers on Oskar who is not an emotionally well young man. We therefore have nothing to relate with. The boy’s actions are annoying and obtuse, he treats his mother atrociously. I can’t relate with how a kid like that sees his mother and the world. We want to relate with Oskar but the feelings never come. Then there is the theme of 9-11. We want to relate with that but it has such a small small place in the movie. I think it would have been better to either make a well developed movie about 9-11 -or- to make a movie with a decent script about Asperger’s syndrome. They didn’t do that though so what we are left with is a movie with an extremely long title and an incredibly flat plot. I was very let down by this movie and the way it promoted itself to be something it was not. If you like the actors, it is worth seeing. If you want to re-examine 9-11 or anything “real” about the grieving process, or Asbergers for that matter, stay incredibly far away from this one. While this movie may be extremely loud & incredibly close on one level, it is most decidedly not incredibly deep.

An Innocent Man (1989)

This post is part of Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur challenge. Jay Cluitt of the LAMB and Life vs. Film stepped in to choose the genre: Prison Films. You can read this post over at Rob’s Genre Grandeur page as well as all the other reviews by blog film critics on prison films. At any rate, here’s what I thought of An Innocent Man with Tom Selleck.

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This film stands as my favorite prison film because of the directing, acting, and story. I’ll start out with the director: Peter Yates was a renowned director long before this film. He had directed throughout the 60’s and 70’s and is probably most known in that time for his film The Deep written by Peter Benchley (Jaws). He made action movies that pulled no punches. I think he was perfect to tell this story, it’s action from credits to credits. More than that though, it gives an innocent man a challenge: How to survive time in jail.

There is some amazing acting in this film. Tom Selleck is incredible as the “oaf” happy-go-lucky man who’s simply in love and happy at his job. What better guy to pin a murder on right? Selleck transforms his almost buffoon-like happy character in a victim and then a fighter. The viewer easily lives vicariously through that character. They should have a ride at an amusement park themed after the plot. It is indeed a roller coaster but one I very much enjoyed riding.

I just want to emphasize Selleck is no bit actor in this, as some may expect him to be. He takes this role and makes it his own. The viewer is meant to be right there in prison with him planning, scheming to get out, and prove his innocence. There is one other actor I cannot leave out of my review: F. Murray Abraham. He is one of the most underrated actors of our time. I loved him in Amadeus and every time I see he’s in a film I try to see it. He has done much to demonstrate power in acting. He plays Virgil, the mentor figure of Selleck’s character. My favorite quote from him is: “Someone messes with me in here, it’s their life.”

To summarize the film: you get a vignette of a few years in prison. Danny Scalise is a happy-go-lucky married blue collar guy who gets framed for a drug job and a murder he didn’t do. We the audience see that clearly. A couple of crooked cops make a terrible mistake picking him as the fall guy and as he is arrested for the crime and is doing time, Scalise becomes much more jaded about the system and begins to exact a process of revenge. The cops end up regretting framing this “innocent man.” Mostly this is not because of who he was going into jail but after what his time there has made him.

FINAL THOUGHTS
This is not a masterpiece of the 1980’s but it sends a powerful message and stands as my favorite prison movie. While in prison, the main character must stand for himself even when it means killing. It is kill or be killed there. Because I think most people who watch movies wonder what they would do in prison to survive. You work with what you have in prison, that’s the message here. To keep your dignity you may have to do barbaric things. Those who don’t may be killed or raed within an inch of their lives, repeatedly, daily. To avoid getting attacked would you attach first? I think Selleck’s “everyman” personality and image fits perfectly in this role. Finally, it wraps just like an 1980’s movie, what’s wrong with happy endings?

5/5

Real Steel (2011)

Here is a truly fun film for kids and adults with the urge to have their own downtown underground fighting robot.

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Last night my wife and I sneaked out leaving the brother to babysit and saw Real Steel is about robot boxing. Yep, it’s that simple and that great! I have to say, I wasn’t too excited to see it. The idea of robots punching each other for 2 hours didn’t really pique my interest. But I am happy to recommend it now as a fun family film, with some fight scenes, that has all the charm of the Karate Kid and cgi as good as Transformers.

It was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the MuseumBig Fat Liar …) and stars Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, and newcomer Kevin Durand. Jackman plays Charlie, an ex prize fighter who now slums as a robot coach (of sorts). Jackman discovers he has a son, Max, and try as he might to do otherwise, he is destined to partner up with his 13 year old son throughout the movie. Charlie and Max try their hand at robot management and coaching but it has mixed results. It isn’t until they have a few shared experiences that they acquire a new, plain, yet mysterious powerful robots. What that power is remains to unfold. Together they discover the worth of teamwork and the analog body in sync with the digital robot technology. I won’t give away anymore about the plot but know that it’s quite a fun ride.

Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Jackman’s ex. She is the calming force in his life even now that they are not together. They share a little romance that sizzles off the screen. Max is just happy-go-lucky. He ends up getting a dad and a prize fighting robot in the deal. There is not a while lot of real life character development but for what this movie is, an action movie, that isn’t required. Atom is the robot. You end up feeling like he is an actual person. He is the classic underdog fighter with no chance and a small physique. The twist is that he is not a human, like Rocky from the 70’s, but rather a steel fighting machine. He never says to his corner man to “cut me” but several comparisons are obvious, as well as to the Karate Kid.

All in all, this movie isn’t very real amid the steel. That being said, you will cheer when the good robots win fights. It is just the right time for this sort of movie to be made. Technology makes these things seem like real chunks of 1,000 pound metal to watch, enjoy, and give a high five to. While weak on the storyline and character development, this is the ideal underdog movie for the kids of today. And for those of us in our slightly older years, we should suspend disbelief so this movie can please us as well.

3/5

Life (2017)

Director Daniel Espinosa has given us a great space action horror flick. There’s a good lesson here too that we’ve seen before in movies like Jurassic Park: Don’t mess with nature.

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It starts like any other space team film. You might even expect the label predictable. still, if you want a Big Mac, there’s nothing better to satisfy your hunger. People who liked Alien and Gravity will like this film. Scene for scene it’s a lot of the same stuff. Creature is brought aboard, impossible to kill. Yeah. There is an ending eerily similar to Gravity but I will spare you the twist.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a great ride. While parts seeem highly borrowed, I chose to enjoy it and let it rock me. I would have liked to have seen something more scientifically illuminating as the trailer and title alluded to. Still it’s a great thriller with horror elements that fans of these genres will enjoy. A lot of work clearly went into this. Too bad it’s a rehashed plot. Most people will enjoy it.

3/5

Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

Movies give us a specific point of view. For this reason, it is possible to NOT GET IT in the same way you might not get someone different at work or in your life’s travels. In my years reviewing movies here on my blog (as well as my entire lifetime watching movies) I have suffered from “jumping to conclusions” about movies. I did that with Nacho Libre. Jack Black didn’t seem funny the first time, but my perspective changed. My gate opened up and after a month or so, that film was my second favorite of all time. Gentlemen Broncos was directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite). It is as camp as camp gets. All (I am) saying is give “camp” a chance.

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Sam Rockwell plays Bronco, an interstellar futuristic hero from the imagination of a teenage writer. He is made out to reference the futuristic movies of the 1960’s, usually starring Charleton Heston. He is actually one layer below the reality one, being in a book. Michael Angarano is our true protagonist. Reminiscent of the children’s comedy Big Fat Liar, his manuscript is stolen by a more established sci fi writer and used for his next book. The best parts of this movie are the flashback sequences into the book. Everyone is searching for yeast, it is the lifeblood of a dying species. Does that sound ridiculous? There’s much more. Some of the real life sequences are slow and unnecessary. I don’t know why the director did so many of them. He could have stuck more to the manuscript story and only gone back occasionally to real life. I think tht would have improved the movie. The director seems like he is filling up dead space with snake diarrhea shopping with mother scenes. The manuscripts are where it’s at.

Envision stags with explosive rockets mounted on them. It’s camp effects again (see what I was saying about camp?). This movie will not resonate with a large audience because it is just too loosely joined. I probably will not recommend my friends and family to watch it but for those who have “seen it all” I offer this as a refreshing laugh with truly stupid intentions. If you laugh at this movie or even walk out, you are doing exactly what the director had hoped you would. I like movies like that, just not every day. Check out the clip below of Gentlemen Broncos.

3/5

Beauty And The Beast (2017)

Disney has done it with its big screen, live action adaptation of the animated musical Beauty and the Beast. The opening scene’s of Belle’s “provincial” town might as well be take straight from the cartoon classic. They are done well however and live-film aspects are utilized fully. I’m sure many were skeptical of what the film might do but it’s this author’s opinion that it entertains more than the animated classic.

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Bill Condon directed it will all the accolades of directing 2 Twilight films and experimental ones like Kinsey. He’s been around the block and it shows. Emma Watson does an excellent job as Belle. She has the chops to deliver and I found her to be “Belle” very shortly into the film. Like everyone, i was waiting for her to sing and when she did, it wasn’t small or nasal, she commanded the songs with a voice like an instrument.

The music remixes most the earlier songs. There are some added that have already brcom instant classics. One way Disney got this film right was by not making it too musical and conversely not too “drama film.” I think they achieved that balance well.

Dan Stevens was the best casting choice in the film. He emoted the beast in and out of costume. He probably had the most lines and screen time so it was integral to the success that he be liked and “bught.” I bought it! Every minute of him. The CGI wasn’t perfect but the acting and voicing was so good, I don’t feel the need to criticize. The wolf fight along with the Gaston jump fight at the end are some of the best action scenes in all Disney movies.

There are other amazing actors in this who do not fail to satisfy: Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson. The acting is first rate and part of what makes this an outstanding film experience. The animated clock and candlestick figures were among my favorite. They are very relatable, just as much if not more so than the prior animated ones.

The story is probably known to all by now. A sorceress’ spell keeps a Prince in the beasts’ body until true love sets him free. This is kind of like the life story of anyone who has sought love. The process of patience and understanding is chronicled much more clearly in this live action film than in the cartoon. We live among the characters and there are scenes where there was not a dry eye in the house. It’s not just a chick-flick either, there are wolf attacks and beast fights, and all the other sort of exciting stuff you’d expect from a legendary tale such as this. Most know that true love wins.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Listen, we all know the story here. It can easily appear that Disney is simply cashing in, once again, on a classic anmated musical to make a sure thing. That isn’t true though because we have learned through time that remakes don’t always succeed. This film is a success in its own rite. Emma Watson delivers as Belle and Dan Stevens is a knockout power punch as the Beast. Then there are 6the smaller successes in the music and the smaller roles. There is a reason this film keeps packing theaters, people want what it gives and they’re ready to pay at the box office. Hollywood should take note for future remakes of such classic animated films.

5/5

Everything Must Go (2010)

Everything Must Go was directed by Dan Rush. This is his debut as a director. Will Ferrell (Nick Halsey) lends an everyman face to suburban failure and renewal in this dark comedy. Alcoholism and depression are addressed in this movie, hefty topics for an independent film but they are handled deftly and respectfully.

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It begins with Nick Halsey losing his job. If you think it can’t get worse than that for a suburban married man in a mortgage, it does. When he gets home, he finds all his possessions, including clothes, strewn across the front lawn. Can’t get worse? Yes it can. Soon after he arrives home he finds he cannot get into the house as his wife has changed the locks. This is when we begin to see he is an alcoholic. He plops down on the easy chair in the yard and decides to have a yard sale. The course of events that follow involve a young kid who visits him on the lawn (Kenny Loftus played by C.J. Wallace who is the son of Notorious B.I.G. in real life). Their interplay is marvelous because it is tender and human.

Kenny doesn’t judge Nick for his misgivings. Instead, they find a common ground where they share a love of baseball and a common theme of loneliness. For me, this relationship was the most significant. There are other ones in the movie though. Samantha (Rebecca Hall), Nick ex-wife, is adamantly against him. Though we don’t know the details it can be boiled down to the well-known failings of an alcoholic in a marriage. Details show us that Nick was not just a casual alcoholic but a raving black-out type. He’s quite lucid and sensible in the movie though. The cop that drives by and has befriended Nick, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), seems to have Nick’s best interest at heart but that remains to be seen. Needless to say, Nick’s days on the lawn must come to an end. When they do, we see a transformation. While a bit predictable, it is the journey that held my attention. What would you do if you lost everything in a day? This movie let’s that “what-if” play out to a clear conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, it was an image of our humanity. Who has never been afraid of living out in the street? At a time in history when so many people are being forced out of their homes, it can be cathartic to watch this. Will Ferrell shows us in this film that he can act. Sure, he is funny but his acting makes it easy to believe he is homeless.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Watching Nick and Kenny together is touching. With all the bad going on in Nick’s life, he takes the time to get to know Kenny. I know from personal experience as a teacher kids require patience. The other relationships are a little flat and I thought could have been developed more. Still, this movie was valuable in the way it portrayed Nick’s relationship with Kenny. There is a lot to take away from that and it makes Everything Must Go highly entertaining.

4/5

Paterson (2016)

The insertion of calming scenes however couldn’t make up for the lack of believable characterization. Nothing resonated with me. Still, as a whole, this movie was enjoyable, like meditation.

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When meditating, still life nature scenes and soft spoken recordings are excellent help for me. It was as if this film purposely included such chunks in the film to entrance its viewers. Because I practice meditation and relaxation, I’m attuned to this and I found those places where Paterson read poetry and waterfalls were running in the background to be ethereal, calming.

It reminded me of the music they play when I get my monthly massage. The insertion of calming scenes however couldn’t make up for the lack of believable characterization and the presence of a very dull plot. Still, as a whole, this movie was i its own way enjoyable for me. Paterson is well versed in famous poets but for the most part, he writes like an unschooled diarist and that was hard to sit through.

Jim Jarmusch is the Director. He directed Only Lovers Left Alive. While much more experimental and “otherworldly,” that film has a similar entrancing yet undefined component to it. I’m not yet convinced this director is one I appreciate but I respect he tries doing films that are different.

Adam Driver plays Paterson, the poet by night/Bus driver by day. I had a real hard time swallowing this character. His wife dotes on him, makes special cupcakes for his lunch, and begs him to buy her a guitar. It’s all a disjointed mess if you asked me. City transit bus drivers make just above poverty level wages and yet she treats him as if he is the king with the fat bank account. Sad for her. More importantly though, she has passion while he has none. Well, he is passionate about poetry but not much more.

FINAL THOUGHTS
No one can wow me with William Carlos Williams references. My MA is in literature. I had many classes on modern poets and wrote many papers. Perhaps that’s why this all seemed very contrived to me. I like bringing the great poets back but the way Jarmusch did it here was droll and gauche. This is one where I have to part ways with the big critics who appear to love this film. I give it:

6/10

Network (1976)

In these days of the Hunger Games, this movie makes a pale statement. Still, it was fun watching this 1976 film make its statement against the media, specifically the news. Some of it even reminded me of the stuff trump is pulling these days (lowercase is intentional).

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The story is basically in a news station. A crazy newscaster who the world has grown used to and familiar with has a psychotic break and begins making promises that he will take his life on television. Instead of getting rid of him, the network sees the ratings go up and puts him on camera again and again.

We see the greed of the network from all angles. We also see the sheep-like nature of the audience. There is a culminating event that wraps the whole cynical point up nicely. There are some great classic actors in their 30’s like Faye Dunaway. I love films from 1976 and thereabouts. They are simply showing the buildings and attire of the day and yet it looks like the best retro modern films can offer.

I recommend this film mostly for political cynics. Besides that, it’s a tense but well made drama from 1976. I recommend to all.

Manchester by the Sea

I went into this film expecting too much I think. It’s getting unheard-of high scores on all the major rating sites. It didn’t merit that in my view.  It looked like a romance, it isn’t. It looked like a chance for actors to shine for Oscars, it wasn’t.

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The story here is fairly simple, though it’s presented in and out of sequential time. That makes it a little harder to get your head around. Casey Affleck is a handyman, a dad, and a husband. He does the unthinkable. He suffers the unimaginable. Of course it’s devastating and sad. It’s told by jumping around in time. When his brother dies, he is chosen to take care of his brother’s son. That alone could have been the theme of the movie but there is something else big, ferocious, sad, and overwhelming that almost overshadows it.

The problem with this film is that it only offers a surface image of it’s many situations. Stories are delved into and not fully developed through the characters. You’ll find tears well placed but it wasn’t enough to bring me into the movie. I saw it, heard it, and interpreted it but only to see what was happening. There was only one spot where I really felt what was happening. The scene way after the tragedy when Michelle Williams’ character meets up with Casey Affleck’s is certainly a tear-jerker moment.

I have always found Casey Affleck to be a flat character. In this film, he is once again flat. I’m very surprised this film has received so much acclaim. Specifically, I wonder why so much praise has been given to Casey. He does an ok job but I think almost any actor could walk in his shoes here. This is a decent film worth watching. I recommend it but not as high as the critics seem to be doing. But, art is relative and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My final word? It’s a decent to very-good drama, that’s it.