Drama done poorly can elicit boredom and disdain, but there's a special type of aghast irritation that terrible cinematic comedy stimulates. While humor is unarguably more subjective, and wacky situations and jokes themselves can therefore connect or not depending on the viewer, when a comedic film with naturalistic roots fails to establish a single realistic character whatsoever, it can make one want to toss eggs at its makers. And that, in a nutshell, describes Expecting, the strained, tone-deaf and almost offensively slapdash feature film debut of writer-director Jessie McCormack, which careens haplessly from one artificial set-up to the next in telling the story of a surrogate pregnancy involving female friends.
On a certain anthropological level, this film is a fascinating misfire. If its royally inept screenplay is the tool by which it most readily delivers exasperation and annoyance, McCormack's aimless direction also brings out the worst instincts in her actors, who give performances that exhibit no fixed, innate character traits. But make no mistake — Expecting is not even "so bad it's good." It's simply bad. By all means, though, if fans of Michelle Monaghan or Radha Mitchell feel compelled to hear them rhapsodize about "gargling balls," this dreadful train wreck may be their only chance. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Tribeca Film, R, 87 minutes)
A well-meaning but lumbering drama that commingles doomed romance, ancestral mystery and wartime horror, Twice Born is the type of cinematic slog that one watches and thinks to themselves, "This would actually be much more interesting as a book." And that makes sense, really, because that is its original medium.
Adapted by Margaret Mazzantini from her own novel of the same name, director Sergio Castellitto's film — in English, but with liberal sprinkles of Italian and Serbian to bolster its authenticity — unfolds against the backdrop of the 1992 siege of Sarajevo, and forward-reaching consequences of the same. While not without some nice moments from stars Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch, and a third-act twist that is affecting if also not entirely well set up, Twice Born suffers from poor characterizations, curious plotting and other assorted editorial missteps. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (E One Entertainment, R, 129 minutes)
Actors, even quite successful working ones with deep filmographies littered with big-budget fare, can labor in relative obscurity for years, before just the right role gives them the chance to really "pop." Such is the case with Oscar Isaac's superb, anchoring performance as the title character in Joel and Ethan Coen's sardonically funny Inside Llewyn Davis, about a week in the life of a struggling folk singer in 1960s New York City, and the slow fade of his despair into outright resignation. I recently had a chance to talk to Isaac at the film's Los Angeles press day, about his breakout role, preparing for the movie's live musical sequences and working with the Coens, whose movies, he says, "may not always be what life looks like, but are definitely what life feels like." The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
Miranda Otto has co-starred in huge, international blockbusters (The Lord of the Rings, War of the Worlds), but retains an easygoing charm — and, indeed, even a pinch of anonymity. That latter quality served her well when it came time for Brazilian filmmaker Bruno Barreto to cast the starring role in Reaching for the Moon, a smart, well-ordered period piece drama about American poet Elizabeth Bishop's tempestuous lesbian relationship with Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires). I recently had a chance to speak one-on-one and in person with Otto, about the film, Bishop's ingrained pessimism and the perils of playing drunk. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
The timing would seem right, coming on the heels of the conclusion of zeitgeist-tapping television hit Breaking Bad, for a movie in which a self-sacrificing hero walks tall into a small town and takes steps to take down the meth trade. Alas, the punishingly witless action flick Homefront is more a movie from the 1980s than for these times. Starring in a script from Expendables mate Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham delivers all the expected scowls and growls, but there's no originality, nuance or even dumb-fun catharsis to recommend this inept exercise in punch-'em-up justice. Full of empty, puffed-up talk of "backwoods reckoning," the movie plays like a dumb-jock, steroidal riff on Walking Tall, or a cousin of the 1989 cult classic Road House, minus any of the latter's fun or sense of self-awareness. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Open Road Films, R, 100 minutes)
There are independent filmmakers and then there's writer-director John Sayles, whose Twitter avatar and biography ("Original Independent") could scarcely say it better. For more than three decades, he's used his often lucrative work as a for-hire script doctor to help fund autonomous screen visions that explore a wide range of themes, from race, class and crime to political corruption and labor union turmoil. Go For Sisters is his latest film, his 18th behind the camera, and it stars Lisa Gay Hamilton as a no-nonsense Los Angeles parole officer who leans on the connections of a wayward high school friend (Yolanda Ross) when her adult son goes missing, tripping headlong into a twisted web of human trafficking and other criminal enterprises. I recently had a chance to speak to the warm and candid Sayles one-on-one and in person, about his movie, his career and why he's not as likely to write things as ambitious as he once did. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
If American animation has, in aggregate, been a bit underwhelming this year, a stirring reminder of the medium's possibilities arrives in the striking Brazilian import Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury, a love story spanning six centuries. Directed by Luiz Bolognesi, the film — not unlike Cloud Atlas or The Fountain, to name but a couple recent high-profile films which touch upon themes of loss and reincarnation — marries a moody and evocative rumination on human frailty with animation possessing an uncommon lyricism and beauty. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. Rio 2096 opens exclusively in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, in Pasadena. To view the film's trailer, click here. (Gullane Entretenimento SA, unrated, 75 minutes)
Lisa Gay Hamilton has had a successful career spanning stage, film and TV, and played more than her fair share of characters of authority — principals, attorneys and the like, including Rebecca Washington for 145 episodes of The Practice, from 1997-2003. But on screen, at least, she hasn't had a lead role, she says. That changes with the release this week of writer-director John Sayles' Go For Sisters, a complex border drama about friendship, redemption and moral relativism. I recently had a chance to talk to Hamilton one-on-one, about the film and working with Sayles. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
The enormous success of 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral, both the highest-grossing British film in history at the time of its release, as well as a $245 million worldwide box office smash, made a star of its screenwriter, Richard Curtis. He was nominated for an Academy Award, among other plaudits, and went on to pen the scripts for Bean, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary. In 2003, with the kaleidoscopic ensemble comedy Love Actually, Curtis was pushed into directing as well as writing, resulting in another huge hit.
The British-set, time travel rom-com About Time, starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams, is his third film behind the camera, and it presents an amplified version of the triumphs and shortcomings most characteristic of Curtis' work. There is abundant charm, as well as a genuinely sweet-spirited view of the world; it is also dependent on plot turns that don't withstand much scrutiny. While studded with moments of amusement and delight, About Time feels very much like the mangled film adaptation of a much richer and more rewarding novel. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Universal, R, 123 minutes)
Almost all of the 18 films John Sayles has written and directed are studded with some measure of political, social or class consciousness. Actor and activist Edward James Olmos, meanwhile, has appeared in dozens of independent productions of his own, a good number with the same sort of thematic interests and preoccupation. Go For Sisters, however, represents their first collaboration. I recently had a chance to speak to Olmos in person and one-on-one, about finally working with Sayles as both an actor and producer, and the challenges of crafting his character. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
A terrifically affecting documentary from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, USA) Running From Crazy details the long and frequently cold shadow of depression and other mental health issues, as filtered through the unique perspective of author and actress Mariel Hemingway. Receiving a theatrical release in advance of its debut on the Oprah Winfrey Network at a date to be determined early next year, this delicate, ruminative, openhearted work throws open the shutters and casts a light on a famously troubled family, making a powerful statement about some of the more forthcoming conversations we as a society should be having if we want to stem the most devastating effects of dark nights of the soul. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. In addition to its ongoing and forthcoming theatrical engagements in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and San Rafael, Running From Crazy opens this week in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset Cinema and the Laemmle Pasadena. To watch the movie's trailer, click here. (OWN/Cabin Creek Films, unrated, 100 minutes)
For a while he was "that kid from the Jeepers Creepers movies." Over the years, however, Justin Long has crafted a winning slate of comedic characters, swooping in and sprinkling a just-left-of-center charm into the sorts of roles for which you get the sense Paul Rudd was deemed a little bit too old, a little bit too expensive, or both. And while he's no bankable star, mostly finding solace in ensembles and animated voice work, Long can still reliably anchor a movie as a leading man, as he did in 2006's underrated, pleasantly anarchic alt-college comedy Accepted. All of which laid the groundwork for a certain level of expectation with regard to Long's screenwriting debut, A Case of You. Sadly, it's more a case of disappointments. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (IFC Films, unrated, 92 minutes)
A nice documentary that throws a spotlight on the overlooked profession of casting directors by way of celebrating Marion Dougherty and Lynn Stalmaster, director Tom Donahue's Casting By opens in Los Angeles tomorrow, November 8, exclusively at the Laemmle Royal. For a gander at my previous review, click here.
It seems hard to believe, but for an actor so associated with the science-fiction genre, Harrison Ford hasn't been "back" to outer space since the conclusion of the original Star Wars franchise. That changes with the release of this weekend's Ender's Game, writer-director Gavin Hood's adaptation of Orson Scott Card's Hugo Award-winning novel. Set a generation after the devastating attack of Earth by an ant-like alien race, the book details the selection, training and manipulation of a brilliant young military cadet, Ender (Asa Butterfield), by a forward-leaning colonel (Ford) looking to prosecute his strategy of a preemptive war to end all wars. Recently, the film's cast and crew gathered for a press day in Los Angeles, to talk about the movie and its weighty themes, as well as some of their upcoming projects. Part of the chat with Ford is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman star as four lifelong friends who convene in Sin City to relive their glory days in advance of the nuptials of one of them in Last Vegas, a funny, sweet and poignant crowd-pleaser that doesn't insult its audience's intelligence. Far more than just the unmoored, geriatric version of The Hangover that its premise suggests, this seriocomedy roots down into its characters in a manner that throws a spotlight not merely on jocular fraternity, but also the duties of friendship, and the hard truths that sometimes only the best and closest of pals can offer up.
Director Jon Turteltaub provides a steady hand on the tiller, but much credit belongs to screenwriter Dan Fogelman, for fleshing out his original treatment in a manner that allows for the inclusion of substantive discord. Fogelman has penned a lot of animated films (including Bolt and Tangled), but Last Vegas most conjures up the same sort of bittersweet mix of first loves, lost loves and the swollen hope of new romantic possibility that also marked his Crazy Stupid Love. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (CBS Films, PG-13, 105 minutes)
After the Academy Award-winning success of The Silence of the Lambs, it would have been very easy for director Jonathan Demme to become beholden to Hollywood, and the increasingly narcoleptic rhythms of an ever-diminishing slate of genre fare for which he would have been richly compensated. Instead, Demme chose the road less traveled, mixing studio fare (Philadelphia, a remake of The Manchurian Candidate) and the occasional indie (Rachel Getting Married) with nonfiction works that indulged some of his other intellectual interests — including a trio of documentaries on Neil Young. With his latest film, Enzo Avitabile Music Life, Demme again mines his love of music, offering up a look at the renowned Neopolitan saxophonist and singer-songwriter of the title, recognized amongst musicians for both his passion and endless experimentation. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here; for more on the movie, meanwhile, click here to visit its website. (Shadow Distribution, unrated, 82 minutes)
October's Gravity, one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of 2013, is approaching $200 million in domestic ticket sales and has already crossed the cumulative $300 million benchmark. It's a spare, streamlined tale and a victory for the marriage of original storytelling with cutting-edge technology. One of the aspects most commonly praised is the movie's utilization of 3-D. Whereas filmgoers have recently been souring on lazy use of the effect, in Gravity, set entirely in outer space, its deployment is mesmerizing, and feels integral to the narrative.
But while the forthcoming big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card's award-winning Ender's Game will be presented in IMAX theaters in addition to regular screens, it will not be presented in 3-D — something of a surprise to some, given the material's science-fiction trappings. There was a lot of reasoning put into the decision, however, according to director Gavin Hood. For the explanation, from the movie's recent Los Angeles press day, trip over to ShockYa.
Stepping into the blood-soaked prom dress made famous by Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name, Chloë Grace Moretz toplines director Kimberly Peirce's Carrie, about a shy outcast who ends up unleashing telekinetic terror on her classmates. Passable only as a piece of recast entertainment for those who've never heard of the original, much less seen it, Carrie doesn't plumb the depths of adolescent isolation its premise obliges. There doesn't seem to be a pronounced rationale, beyond commercial reward, for this relatively undistinguished remake.
At the core of Carrie's emotional disconnection, unfortunately, is Moretz's performance. Spacek's Oscar-nominated turn in the 1976 film casts a long enough shadow that any young actress would have some trouble escaping it; Spacek tapped into the title character's pitiable qualities with such a consuming focus that it was at times painful to watch. Moretz, still just 16 years old (almost a decade younger than Spacek was at the time of filming), is a talented young actress, but lacks, at least here, the ability to convey an emotional hopelessness resulting from years of ground down self-esteem. Her Carrie is all over-articulated social shyness and body shame. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Sony/Screen Gems, R, 99 minutes)
With its allegorical connection to both race relations and the Vietnam War, Night of the Living Dead changed horror movies forever. Other filmmakers made, and continue to make, memorable entries in niche offshoots of the genre — be they of the vampire, werewolf, slasher or other monster persuasion. George Romero's shoestring-budgeted 1968 independent film, however, fundamentally redefined the modern zombie movie, altering the very DNA of such films. Rob Kuhns' new documentary Birth of the Living Dead, then, has plenty to chronicle, and engagingly merits its existence — both from the legitimate perspective of academic-leaning film historians as well as more casual horror fans. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (First Run Features/Glass Eye Pix, unrated, 76 minutes)
Per the Wrap, Inside Job director Charles Ferguson — after backing out of his planned Hillary Clinton documentary, torpedoed equally by right and left — will next investigate the technologies, economics and politics shaping the debate over climate change. A broad-spectrum look at the issue, Our Energy Future will shoot over the next year-plus, with an eye on an autumn 2015 release.
In my latest spin around Blu-ray and DVD releases over at ShockYa, I take a look at the third installment of the Iron Man franchise, horror anthology V/H/S 2, a sequel that really has nothing to do with 2011's Fright Night remake, a bunch of TV series and more. If interested in taking a gander, click here.