After being underwhelmed by the last holiday comedy I reviewed (Office Christmas Party), I was not particularly enthusiastic about seeing another one- especially one written by Jonah Hill and starring James Franco. Not that they aren’t both talented, but the majority of their collaborations have been stoner comedies, which have never really been my thing. However, while this movie wasn’t comedic genius, I still enjoyed it more than I expected, thanks to a strong cast of genuinely funny actors.
Why Him? follows Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), along with his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and their teenaged son Scotty (Griffin Gluck), on their visit to from Michigan to California to celebrate Christmas with their daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) in order for her to introduce them to her boyfriend, gaming app mogul Laird Mayhew (James Franco). To say Laird is eccentric is a major understatement, and despite his best efforts to earn Ned’s approval, the protective father can’t understand what his daughter sees in him.
While the film won’t be a classic by any means, it did get a lot of solid laughs throughout the screening. This is mostly thanks to a performance by a strong cast. The highlight for me was Keegan-Michael Key as Gustav, Laird’s personal assistant/life coach-type person, who cracked me up every time he was on screen. The rest of the actors were great as well; Megan Mullally was hilarious as ever, Bryan Cranston brought not only plenty of humor to his role but also some genuinely heartwarming moments (due to some great father/daughter chemistry between Zoey Deutch), and even James Franco as Laird was likable in his eagerness and genuine excitement to get to know his girlfriend’s family, even if the foul-mouthed, loveably clueless character wasn’t much of an acting stretch for him.
This movie’s problem is that the plot isn’t original-the “overprotective parents meeting the significant other who’s not good enough for their child” storyline has been done multiple times- and if a film is going to have a clichéd plot, it had better have either a new take on it or exceptionally funny writing, and this had neither. The ending was predictable, and while the writing wasn’t bad, I couldn’t remember a single joke or one-liner from it. Fortunately, the actors were able to work well with what they were given, but it wasn’t enough to save the movie entirely.
If you’re a big fan of any of these actors, Why Him? might be worth checking out; otherwise, I’d wait until it’s available at Red Box or on TV/streaming.
Have you seen ‘Why Him?’? Well, what did you think?
TCFF is less than a week away! Those who’ve been reading my blog for a while knows I’ve been covering TCFF since its inception seven years ago. It was only a 5-day festival and it was split between two different locations in Minneapolis. Well now TCFF has made its home at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatresin St. Louis Park, and this year TCFF will also feature a second screening series at the IFP Theater in St. Paul.
I’ve finalized the movies I’ll be watching during the 11-day film fest. I’m just thrilled that there’s quite an eclectic lineup we’ve got this year, practically there’s something from every genre. I’ve blogged about some of them on this lineup post, but below is the movies what I’m excited about.
Before we get to that though, here’s TCFF’s Preview Video highlighting some of the studio films showing this year …
… The perk of blogging for the film fest is that I could watch as many films as I could (yay!). Of course it’d still not be possible for me to see every single film, but I have my pal Sarah Johnson to help me review stuff again this year which allows me to do interviews and support indie filmmakers!
A female Marine veteran, battling unseen wounds from her recent service in Afghanistan, flees her suburban life in search of solace and escape in the North Woods.
I’m thrilled that I’ll be going to the 5:30pm screening of this film. I had been looking forward to this since my friend Kirsten Gregerson (who has a supporting role in the film) told me about it a year ago. As you know, I always champion female-driven films and Blood Stripe is co-written by its star Kate Nowlin, and the film won the U.S. Fiction Award from L.A. Film Festival. The film is filmed locally in MN at Lake Vermilion!
Stay tuned for my interview w/ the husband/wife team Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin next week!
A contestant on a Bachelorette style reality show is thrown into turmoil when the sudden death of his father forces him to quit the series prematurely and reconnect with his estranged sister at the family cabin.
This sounds like an intriguing comedy drama, featuring a Glee reunion of sort w/ Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch!
When a couple sets out to build their dream house, they enlist the services of an uncompromising modernist architect who proceeds to build HIS dream house, instead of theirs.
I have to say I was immediately intrigued by this when I saw James Frain in the cast! He’s a terrific character actor from Yorkshire UK who’s been in countless of TV shows and films, including the latest obsession of mine The White Queen as Lord Warwick. I also love the two great comedians Parker Posey and Eric McCormack, so I can’t wait to see this!
In the adventure-comedy The Babymoon, a husband in a fragile relationship tries to impress his pregnant wife with a luxurious and romantic babymoon vacation to the most beautiful and exotic country imaginable, which places the couple in the middle of a poorly-planned political revolution!
From its press release: This star studded and well-known cast brings a multitude of talent and relatable emotion to the big screen. The Babymoon features Shaun Sipos (Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place), Julie McNiven (Mad Men, Supernatural), JessicaCamacho (Sleepy Hollow, Dexter), MichaelSteger (90210), MarkDeCarlo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Jimmy Neutron),PhillipGarcia (Telenovela, Fuller House), and KellyPerine (Drew Carey, The Parent ‘Hood).
The premise sounds really intriguing too! Sounds like a perfect date night movie for anyone in the mood for some fun adventure at the movies.
As a former fixer for journalists in Afghanistan, Osman (Dominic Rains) finds asylum in a small California town. Promised a job as a crime reporter for the local paper, and a home with his best friends mother, the town sheriff (Melissa Leo), Osman is ready to settle in. But, when the job falls through, Osman finds himself restless and looking for action.
His attempts to get to know the area lead him to develop friendships with an elusive local actress, Sandra (Rachel Brosnahan), and a charming local troublemaker named Lindsay (James Franco). But, when a dead body turns up and Lindsay goes missing, Osman must face the possible evil lurking just beneath the surface and the depths of his new homes darkness.
One of my fave films at TCFF last year also featured James Franco: The Adderal Diaries. The premise of this one really intrigues me, and I’m looking forward to seeing Dominic Rains‘ performance, as he won Best Actor in US Narrative Feature (then called The Fixer) at Tribeca earlier this Spring (per Variety). Melissa Leo also has a supporting role here and she’s a terrific actress!
Director: LISA ROBINSON & ANNIE J. HOWELL Runtime: 84 min
When Claires (Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt) search for her missing husband leads her to an alluring and manipulative graduate student, she uncovers a world of secrets that threatens to shatter her family.
Here’s another female-driven film (written & directed by a pair of female directors too!) I’m excited about. The film premiered at theSXSW Film Festival and recently Breaking Glass Pictures has acquired North American rights to the mystery drama. (per Indiewire)
Scott thinks he might be dying. Not at all an uncommon thought for Scott, but today the lump he believes he found “down there” might actually be real. Today also happens to be the day of his friend Kens funeral. Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friends funeral in an attempt to start living his own life to the fullest.
Now this sounds like a dark comedy that serves as a male health PSA! The filmmaker raises awareness in collaboration with the Testicular Cancer Society.
From its press release: A full cast of experienced and recognizable talent include: Tyler Labine (Deadbeat, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil), Tygh Runyan (The upcoming Versailles, Stargate Universe), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Horrible Bosses 2), Dominic Rains (Best Actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his role in Burn Country, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Loner) and many more. Funeral Day is written by Kris Elgstrand, an award winning screenwriter, whose most recent film, Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
A young woman returns home to Wisconsin for her best friend’s wedding – one year after her father’s death.
This sounds like a personal and heartfelt story about loss and friendship that everyone can relate to. As someone who’s lost a parent early in my life, the story certainly appeals to me.
From its press release: June Falling Down was made primarily by a two-person crew – one of whom was the writer-director-lead actress. What begins as a quirky, homespun movie with a mixture of local Door County, Wisconsin actors and non-actors, reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, over time reveals itself to be a film of surprising depth and poignancy, a meditation on grief and growing up.
A father and daughter who have been estranged by divorce for twelve years find themselves on a trip across the country that becomes a more complicated journey than they imagined. It’s a story of pain, hope, healing, and redemption.
I had the pleasure of chatting with the lead actor Dariush Moslemi during the filmmakers interview taping a few weeks ago. I was so inspired by his conversation that it made me look forward to his film even more. I enjoy faith-based stories where the spiritual aspect is organic to the story and that it’s not about spewing a certain agenda. Sounds like a great film to take your whole family to.
Grieving her mothers death and her own failing marriage, Lexi (Gemma Brockis) boards a plane from London to Los Angeles in search of the estranged father who abandoned her when she was three-years-old. Based out of a seedy Hollywood motel, she follows a tenuous trail of breadcrumbs, beginning with his aging former in-laws, collecting numbers and addresses in the hopes that one will lead to her father. Along the way, she establishes other unexpected connections: her father’s ailing former second wife (Deborah Dopp), her bitter half-sister Tanya (Jennifer Lafleur) and her caregiver girlfriend (Jade Sealey), and two local barflies (David Sullivan and Kent Osborne). A stranger in the City of Angels, Lexis reckless searching leads to cautious discoveries in this atmospheric and introspective quest.
Another film screened at L.A. Film Festival that won some accolades! This film won The LA Muse Jury Special Mention award. Written and directed by Amber Sealey, it also featured a large female ensemble cast, always a plus in my book!
Three estranged foster brothers rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree”…and face down the monster living within.
There’s something about this comedy fantasy about three brothers that immediately appeals to me. I grew up w/ two brothers and let’s just say we have a rather unusual childhood, so I think I can relate to this story.
Trespass Against Us is set across three generations of the Cutler family who live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of Britain’s richest countryside. Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) is heir apparent to his bruising criminal father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson) and has been groomed to spend his life hunting, thieving and tormenting the police. But with his own son, Tyson (Georgie Smith) coming of age, Chad soon finds himself locked in a battle with his father for the future of his young family.
I almost didn’t mention this film when I initially published this article as I didn’t think it was an independent film. Well it certainly falls under the category of British indie, which was recently acquired by A24 for its US rights. It’s definitely one of my most-anticipated films at TCFF. The pairing of two Irish thespians Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender gets my attention straight away, and it looks like a gripping family gangster flick set in a British countryside.
For Horror/Thriller Fans…
Now, most of you know I have too feeble nerves to handle horror, but since is close to Halloween, naturally there are quite a few horror films playing at TCFF! Here’s a sampling that you should check out, click on the link below the posters for more info!
It’s safe to assume that James Franco loves literary adaptations. The Adderall Diaries is based on a memoir of the same name by Stephen Elliot. Franco played Stephen, a writer who seems to be at the height of his career. His agent constantly calls him about various book deals and options. There’s even a new romance in the air, as he met a pretty reporter from the Times (Amber Heard) during a high-profile murder trial. Yet he’s still haunted by the ghost of his traumatic past, especially his *monster* dad who through a series of flashbacks seems like a beligerent and abusive father Neil who made his childhood a living hell. During a reading of his memoir, Neil suddenly turned up and confronted his son just as Stephen was reading from his memoir that he was deceased.
Needless to say, Stephen’s life went on a downward spiral as the book deals quickly dried up. He descended into self-destructive behavior with substance abuse (with Adderall tablets being his drug of choice) and BDSM sessions with prostitutes, all the while his daddy-issues overwhelmed him to the point that he alieniated everyone close to him. It’s hard to tell fact from fiction in a blur of drug-induced haze Stephen constantly puts himself under. Therein lies the crux of the story: what is really fact and what is a product of his imagination? The film asks the question of what it means to tell the truth, and how we often choose to see things our own way. In the case of Stephen, all his life he incessantly sees himself as the *victim.*
There are a lot going on in this film, but the father/son relationship is central to the story. There’s a facet of crime drama in the murder trial subplot, but it’s always seen through Stephen’s eyes and how those events bring out elements from his own past. I don’t always get what is going on in a particular scene, but the film’s pace and script remains engaging and some of the cryptic moments intrigue instead of frustrate me. Perhaps the fact that writer/diretor Pamela Romanowsky studied behavioral psychology at Macalester College in MN made her the right person to adapt this book.
The performances are ace all around. James Franco delivered a convincing performance as someone who’s totally lost and full of anger. Stephen isn’t exactly a likable character, yet there’s a layered vulnerability and real angst that made me sympathize with him. The always reliable Ed Harris is phenomenal here as Stephen’s estranged dad, the scenes between the two of them are the most intense and emotional parts of the film. The rest of the supporting cast, Amber Heard, Cynthia Nixon, Jim Parrack and Christian Slater are solid as well.
This is a confident directorial debut from Romanowsky. There are quite a few flashback scenes in the film and at times they serve as scenes from the character’s memories. So it’s crucial that the transition isn’t jarring or become too hard to follow. I never felt lost watching the story and that’s a testament to a deft direction. Not only did the story translate well cinematically, she also brought out excellent performances from her actors.
I’m thrilled that Pamela’s next project will be writing and directing Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey. Based on this article, the novel is set in a dystopian future and involves people competing in a secret game of demolition derby, all while the world becomes an even worse place as time passes. James Franco is set to play the title role once again, it definitely sounds intriguing and I can’t wait to see what Pamela will do with that project.
I had the privilege of chatting with director Pamela Romanowsky about making the film, working with James Franco & Ed Harris, and the challenges being a female filmmaker in Hollywood.
Q: How did you come on board this project?
I read The Adderall Diaries for the first time as a casual reader. It was in the window at my neighborhood bookstore in Brooklyn (which is where James signs books in the opening scene of the film), and I finished it in a couple days. It really stuck with me, in particular his insights and admissions about how we edit our memories to fit a personal narrative. Some months later in Detroit, James and I were working together on The Color of Time, a multi-director adaptation of CK Williams’ brilliant poetry collection TAR. My vignette is an adaptation of the poem “Tar” and it’s also about how memory affects our experience of the present. James asked me if I would be interested in adapting a book he’d optioned called The Adderall Diaries. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.
Q: What was the challenges of adapting a novel/memoir into a screenplay?
It’s a different set of challenges for each project. In this case, it was figuring out how to translate the book’s foundational themes and ideas into cinematic language. The form and style of the book is very different from a movie- It’s about moments and impressions more than it is a traditional story with a plot and character arcs. The quote that opens the movie is one I had pinned up on my writing board, which I think is the beating heart and central idea of the book.
Stephen says, “We understand the world by how we retrieve memories. Re-order information into stories to justify how we feel.” I’m deeply moved by that thought, both the truthfulness of it and his willingness to expose it in himself. We all know memory is an emotionally charged and unreliable thing, and that’s easy to point out as a concept, even easier to point out in another person who has a different version of our story, but few of us have the balls to point to it in ourselves.
The central conflict in the movie is that Stephen and his father Neil have organized the facts of what happened between them into very different stories. Each man has cast himself as the victim, and so he needs the other to admit some culpability so he can be right. In the movie, it takes all these other satellite characters orbiting Stephen (his girlfriend, his best friend, his muse and his editor) to get into conflict with him at the same time, before it finally clicks that if everyone edits their memory to validate an emotional position, he’s doing it, too.
It took me two years to get from first draft to the first day on set, and I was re-writing the whole way. The biggest leaps and best insights came out of the work I did with the Sundance Institute, where I was a fellow at the screenwriting, directing and sound/music labs. My experiences there changed not only how I approached this project, but how I approach my job and my voice as a writer and director in general. Michelle Satter, founding director of the feature film program, and Robert Redford, who needs no introduction, were two of my most helpful and primary advocates throughout, reading scripts, watching cuts, and opening doors.
Q: Which do you enjoy most, writing or directing?
Directing. I didn’t know what the job meant until I was in it, and I feel really lucky to have stumbled upon my dream job. It’s the intersection of all of my interests, joys and skills, and it’s never ever the same thing twice. It keeps me constantly on my toes and learning, working with brilliant people. It’s about adjusting, trying to zero in on the thing you want from different approaches (I always think of a GPS saying “re-calculating” over and over again). I love the great leap of faith into intimacy everyone has to take, especially between actors and directors. You expose a lot of yourself working scenes out, whether you talk about it overtly or not. How do you lie? How do you flirt or chase respect? How do you experience regret or sex or losing your temper or ignoring the elephant in the room? It’s all in there, and you get to know and respect each other in really deep ways.
There’s deep beauty and satisfaction in writing, too, but for me it’s much less pleasurable than directing.
Q: You had worked with James Franco before when you did ‘The Color of Time’ while at NYU. How did the rest of the cast come on board this project?
I met James in grad school at NYU where we both did the MFA film program. He’s always felt like a kindred spirit and we became friends right away, but we hadn’t worked together until The Color of Time. We got to bond in a deeper way as collaborators on that film and even more so on Adderall, and he’s become one of my closest and most treasured friends. He’s magnetic and inspiring, and works harder and more passionately than anyone.
Ed Harris was my mentor at the Sundance Director’s lab, which felt like some kind of crazy hand-of-god fate, because I’d written the part for him without ever knowing I’d get the chance to meet him or tell him so. He was advising me the day I shot the workshop version of Stephen and Neil’s climactic scene (with the fantastic actors Luke Kirby and Dennis Boutsikaris), and at one point Ed asked if he could jump in to offer a suggestion. He hugged Luke and then tossed him over the hood of a car, and I just stood there breathlessly, seeing the character I’d imagined for so long come vividly to life. Ed is electric and that’s so exciting to be around.
Jim Parrack (Roger) is one of James’ oldest friends in real life. Their rapport, in all its competitive, loving, intense glory, is very real. My favorite scene to shoot with them was the boxing scene, because they’re trained boxers and they both learned with the great Macka Foley, who was on set, too. That day was all-in and so intense.
Amber Heard (Lana), Christian Slater (Hans), Cynthia Nixon (Jen) and Timothee Chalamet (Teenage Stephen) all came through my friend Danie Streisand, a phenomenal talent agent who I call the secret casting director of this movie. She cared about and got the project like nobody else, and with each of those actors, it was the most obvious match in the world from the moment I got to meet with them. Each actor brings something different to set, and it’s fascinating to watch how those energies intersect and change each other.
Q: Tell me what it’s like working with Franco and Ed Harris, both of whom are committed and versatile actors working today.
Joan Darling, my acting teacher at the Sundance labs, says that a great actor is like a high speed train- even the smallest adjustment at the beginning of a scene will take you in a very different direction by the end. James and Ed are certainly high-speed trains, and it was an absolute honor and joy to work with them. They’re game to experiment, they commit entirely, they’re emotionally rigorous and they’re fiercely allergic to bullshit. Watching how they communicated and reacted to each other within the scenes was stunning. It’s worth noting that Ed and James are both directors as well- They’re smart and generous people by nature, but I think they were particularly attuned to and patient with what I needed technically and camera-wise because they’re clocking my coverage and know to advocate for that last setup we don’t really have time for but will need in the editing room. And they’re both veterans. What they’ve seen on set and in the industry, as actors and directors, is precious insight for a young director to have.
Q: Given that the gender disparity in Hollywood is such a hot topic these days, would you comment a bit about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?
I’m glad that gender disparity in Hollywood is a hot topic. It should be. Four percent of the top one hundred box office films are directed by women. FOUR. Many years, that number has been lower, and the numbers are similar for people of color and other minorities. How can an industry that represents and creates culture not be affected and made toxic by that obvious, shameful degree of discrimination?
The thing is, the difference between my experience as a first time indie filmmaker and a women embarking on a career in Hollywood will be very different. I’m here talking to you, so obviously I’m one of the women who made a debut feature. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but not because I’m a woman. I had the support and respect of everyone I worked with.
After this, my experience will likely change. Women who make good indie first features don’t get asked to make big studio movies like Spiderman or Jurassic Park. But men do get to take that massive leap. The same number of women and men attend prestigious film schools and write good, vetted screenplays. The first hurdle comes with financing and thus making that first feature. Only 25% of American directors at Sundance are women, skewed heavily toward documentaries. But 25% is a hell of a lot more than 4%. The real obstacle for female directors isn’t making the first indie feature, it’s the opportunity to launch from there into Hollywood. And that’s a very old and carefully guarded obstacle to move. I’m still gonna do my damndest to get there, obviously.
One blogger can’t possibly watch every single film, so thanks to two of FC contributors today, I bring you double reviews of two movies currently in theaters. This is The End is actually just been released today.
Pain and Gain
It may be hard to believe when you’re watching the sordid, outrageous crimes that take place in Pain and Gain, but this film is based on a true story. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, and it’s about bodybuilders on a crime spree in mid-1990s Miami. Action director Michael Bay helmed this terrible low-budget film, which is more than two hours long and feels much longer.
The movie used as its source material a three-part crime series, written by reporter Pete Collins and published in Miami’s “New Times” newspaper. What happens over the course of the film, in brief, is that a weightlifter named Daniel Lugo, portrayed by Wahlberg, forms the Sun Gym Gang. This murderous group includes the fictional Paul Doyle, played by Johnson, a cocaine addict and religious fundamentalist. This stripper-loving, steroid-fueled gang needs money, and so they decide to kidnap, torture and ultimately murder Victor Kershaw, a local deli owner, and later the head of a telephone sex company and his girlfriend.
What makes these criminals, in real life and in the film, especially shocking is that they hold Kershaw hostage for roughly a month, continually torturing him in order to take control of his financial assets. And what makes the movie puzzling – not to mention offensive – is the approach it takes to the story. Instead of crafting a horrific drama, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the authors of the screenplay, decided that they would try to create a quasi-comedy. The key word in that last sentence is “try,” because nothing in the movie is remotely funny. Rather, the film is infested with all kinds of crude, sophomoric jokes, including gags about bodily functions and sex toys. As a result, inevitably, several relatives of the real victims in this case have publicly denounced the movie for trivializing events and presenting the killers in a somewhat positive light, and for attempting to get laughs in the process.
In recent years, Mark Wahlberg has proven himself a talented and versatile actor, adept in both comedic and dramatic roles. Think of films as different from one another as Ted (2012), about a grown man with a living teddy bear, and The Fighter (2010), a gripping true-life account of a working-class boxer. That Wahlberg would choose to be in Pain and Gain is truly shocking.
On the other hand, that Michael Bay would direct this garbage is not shocking. He’s best known for loud, witless movies such as the Transformers series. And Bay employs his entire arsenal of headache-inducing tricks throughout this picture, including super-fast edits, spinning camera moves and the objectification of his actresses’ bodies. Indeed, the only real difference between the bodybuilders in “Pain and Gain” and the bad robots in “Transformers” is that, once in a while, the giant robots actually seem kind of realistic. Oh, and the Transformers don’t curse or go to strip clubs.
3 out of 5 reels
Author: Eddie D. Shackleford is a writer and blogger for Cable.tv and loves to write about movies, entertainment, TV and more. You can follow Eddie @Eddie20Ford.
This is the End
I have to admit, I’m not a big comedy fan. I rarely seek out comedies at the cinemas, it’s not that I don’t like the genre, I just think some of the comedy films have been either average or just boring within the last few years. I prefer my comedies on TV, I love shows like Parks & Recreation, The League and Arrested Development. But when I saw the trailer for This Is The End, I was kind of excited to see it. A disaster and comedy film with big named stars playing themselves, how can it not be funny.
The film opens with Seth Rogen picking up his friend Jay Baruchel at the airport. They stopped at Rogen’s house, drank alcohol, smoked a lot of weed and then decided to head to James Franco’s house for a party he’s throwing. Once there, they ran into who’s who of young comedians in Hollywood. Even Emma (Hermione) Watson and Rihanna were there partying. Everyone was having a great time except Jay, since he’s not as famous as the other actors at the party, he felt left out. So later he asked Seth to go to a convenient store with him to get some cigarettes. While there Jay said he wanted to leave the party and go hang out at Seth’s place, but Seth wanted to stay. Then suddenly there’s an earthquake and some people inside the store got sucked up to the sky by blue lights and some died; violently I have to say.
They ran back to Franco’s place and told everyone what was happening, of course no one believed them, even Seth started to doubt what he saw. Then the earthquake started again and this time there’s a giant sink hole in Franco’s front lawn, a bunch of people fell into it. So James Franco decided to go back into his house believing it’s safer there. The people who came with him were Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen. So most of the film took place inside Franco’s house and the bicker between these actors. Later on in the film, Danny McBride showed up and he and Franco got into a fight about masturbation that will make your stomach hurt from laughing so hard, it’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Then later on, a certain big named actor showed up and that also got a huge laugh from the audience.
I didn’t expect the movie to play it so straight, I mean it’s about the end of world and these actors are trying to survive it. I was hoping they would make fun of the movie industry in general, particularly the big budget tent poles that we see every summer. One thing they did do was to insult one another, a constant running gag was how Jay Baruchel is still unknown since he’s not as popular as the other actors within the group. The movie kind of lost me when it started talking about the rapture and then monsters showed up to hunt down the actors. I don’t want give away too much since I think a lot of people might get a kick out of the story.
Performance-wise everyone was pretty good, especially Jay Baruchel who’s basically the lead in the film. I’ve never seen him in anything before this movie and I thought he’s funny and I can see him becoming the new Jim Carrey. Franco, Rogen, McBride, Hill and Robinson were pretty much playing themselves and most of the time it worked.
All in all, this debut feature film by Evan Goldberg (who wrote Pineapple Express, Superbad) is a decent comedy. If you’re a fan of Goldberg’s previous films that he wrote, as well as Shawn of the Dead, you’re going to enjoy this. Just don’t take your young kids or nieces or nephews to see it, the film contains graphic language and violence.
It’s the last week of March already, but Spring is arriving VERY s-l-o-w-l-y here in Minnesota. By around the same time last year, we’re already in mid 60s, I think some people were wearing shorts on St. Patrick’s Day? This year, I’d be thrilled to see mid 40s by next weekend!
I did see a movie that made me feel quite Spring-y with the bright and colorful landscape filled with gorgeous colors and of course, a rainbow!
If you’re curious whether people who have not seen the original would enjoy this prequel, well I for one can tell you that YES, absolutely you could! In a way I feel that I actually have the advantage of knowing hardly anything of the story, apart from what the wicked witch look like and knowing some of the lyrics of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. You might be amused that the only time I heard this song being played in a movie is from John Woo’s action-packed Face/Off, ahah.
My friend asked me if I wanted to see a matinee showing and I went in with tepid expectations after reading the mediocre reviews. Well, I’m glad to report that I was NOT disappointed. Far from it, it really was a wonderful 2-hour escapist entertainment!
First of all, the opening title sequence is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautiful and creative, definitely brings you right into the carnival world where Oscar works as a small time magician with dubious ethics. He soon gets into trouble, which leads him to a hot air balloon that transports him away from Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz. The movie turns from black and white to color and oh, what a feast for the eyes. I was truly mesmerized by the beauty of Oz. Sam Raimi truly turns the movie magic on with this one, I was practically ooh-aah-ing the gorgeous cinematography, special effects and spectacular landscape. Every creature is pretty amusing to look at, yes even the weird ones like the river fairies!
In this magical land is where Oscar meets the three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are all skeptical that he’s the great wizard everyone’s been waiting for. Oscar himself didn’t really want to continue deceiving them at first, that is until Evanora shows him all the gold he’d have if he becomes King. The inner struggle of choosing good over evil is something we’ve all identified with, and Oscar soon realized how high the stakes are for the people of Oz, though we’re never sure of his true motive until the very end.
I’ve told you about the visuals, now acting-wise, I still think Johnny Depp would’ve been much better in the role of Oscar Diggs instead of James Franco, but he ends up being all right here. I know his character is supposed to be this egotistical smug, but Franco plays it far to literally that he comes across annoying instead of amusing. He has this weird, awkward grin that made me cringe, it just took me out of the movie as I wanted to smack him! I also don’t buy him as this irresistible man who could get all these stunning women to fall in love with him. Fortunately he redeemed himself as the film progresses, in fact I think he was quite good in the touching scene with the China Doll. His fun companies on his journey on the yellow brick road certainly helps, I love Finley the flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and China Girl (voiced by Joey King) who both owed their lives to Oscar.
The real stars of the film for me are the spectacular visuals and the three female actresses. It’s inspired casting to get Kunis and Weisz as sisters as they have similar features. Both look ravishing in their costumes, especially Weisz in the sparkly, feathered black frock. One particular scenes of them together is crucial to the story and I think both actresses acquit themselves well, though I can’t speak for fans of the original on this one. In contrast, Williams projects delicate beauty as the good witch Glinda. She practically looks like a cross between Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora and Cinderella in her silky white dress and crystal tiara. People might say it’s a boring role as she’s good through and through, but Williams is so effortlessly sympathetic and she did her best with what she was given.
I find the story to be quite absorbing and even hilarious at times. I could see how the L. Frank Baum’s cretion has become a pop-culture phenomenon, not only with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, but also the smash hit Broadway play Wicked. One of the primary keys to a great tale is memorable characters, and this movie is full of them. The wicked witch and how she became that way is certainly the main draw, but the supporting characters are entertaining as well. Finley delivers a lot of laughs, the scene of him mooing had me in stitches. Though I’ve never been into dolls, China Girl is so adorable and cute I wish I could take her home for myself!! The citizens of Oz are full of quirky bunch as well, though I had the same reaction as Oscar when the munchkins started to burst into song, ahah. Ah well, this is a Disney movie after all.
Danny Elfman‘s beautiful score definitely helps transport you into another world. I really think Raimi and co did a great job here, and perhaps the fact that I couldn’t compare it to the original gives the film an advantage. But I wonder if having seen the original would make me like this less, I don’t know if that’d be the case.
Final Thoughts: If you want to lose yourself in a fantastical world for two hours on Sunday afternoon, you could do a lot worse. I was massively entertained and the few corny scenes (those romantic scenes between Franco & Kunis came to mind) did not derail the film for me. I didn’t see the 3D version and whilst I thought the visuals was still splendid in that format, I’d think the 3D version would’ve been worth it for this one.
4 out of 5 reels
Thoughts on this one? Anyone else love it as much as I did?
Seems like every other week there’s news that another actor is trying their hand at directing. Just this past month alone, I read that James Franco is supposedly directing a Lindsay Lohan biopic (??) and Philip Seymour Hoffman seems ready to be back in the director’s chair (after Jack Goes Boating) with a Depression-era ghost storyEzekiel Moss. Dustin Hoffman—unrelated to Philip by the way, in case you’re wondering—just completed his first film Quartet, as I talked about in the TCFF lineup post.
This trend is hardly new though, after all as far back as Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier, many thespians have done work behind the camera, and some have become quite successful at it. I haven’t done my top ten list yet, I might do another collaborative effort with my pal Ted at some point, but I think Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Woody Allen and Ben Affleck would probably make my list. Affleck seems to flourish under his own direction, as he seems better in front of the camera when he’s also behind the camera, case in point: The Town and the upcoming ARGO which is getting rave reviews. In the case of Allen though, I much prefer that he stays behind the camera as I don’t like his neurotic style as an actor.
Why Do So Many Actors Want to Become Directors?
Do they just like the idea of being a multi-hyphenated artist?? I’m sure there’s a certain degree of pride that comes with being a double or triple threat (if they also write their own script) in the industry. But I’d think that for most, it’s about extending one’s creativity in the film-making business. Generally speaking, directors usually have the most creative control in making a film, though of course the studio often has a lot of input that often change the direction of the final piece. Some top actors might have a close connection with the director they’re working with, offering a lot of creative input to the film, but perhaps for some, that’s not enough.
Not every actor-turned-director is created equal obviously, but I’d think that seasoned actors have the filming experience behind them to help get a compelling performance out of fellow actors. They know what it’s like being in front of the lens, what the actors might be feeling, the challenges of getting a certain emotion across, etc. better than those who have never acted before. Perhaps it’s the ’empathy’ factor is what makes them become successful directors, and some actor have become more well-known as directors than actors (Allen, Howard, Reiner), though people like Eastwood have the talents to juggle both worlds equally.
Well, now I’d like to turn things over to you and ask you to vote your favorite actors-turned-directors. Cast your vote below!
Remember, you can pick up to three. Feel free to share your top five or top 10 in the comments, and tell me which movie(s) of theirs are your favorites.
As I said in my weekend roundup post, this film was such a pleasant surprise as I really wasn’t that interested in seeing it. In fact, when the trailer came out a few months ago, I quickly dismissed it, saying that it looked ridiculous and so darn obvious that the apes will go y’know, ape-sh*t if they were made to be intelligent, I mean, we’re talking about wild animals here.
But I’m glad my husband persuaded me to see this film as I ended up really enjoying it!
You’re probably already familiar with the story when man’s experiments with genetic engineering gone wrong as the intelligent apes end up embarking in a war to gain dominance in society. This latest version is an origin story of how the apes got to be ultra smart to begin with, thus a prequel to the 1968 version with Charlton Heston where humans in the Planet of the Apes have become inferior beings.
The star of the film is no doubt the Ape itself, Caesar, played by the motion-capture virtuoso, Andy Serkis. This is not the first time he played one on film, having portrayed the king of all cinematic primate, King Kong, in 2005. Caesar is raised from the time he was an infant by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), who is working on a cure for Alzheimer at Gene Sys Corporation. By taking home baby Caesar, he defies orders from his boss to shut down the drug project after one of the apes injected with the drug wreak havoc inside the company’s headquarter.
Will’s dad Charles, who’s suffering from Alzheimer (John Lithgow) welcomes Caesar wholeheartedly and he soon became part of their family. The first act of the film shows the bond between the ultra intelligent chimpanzee growing up in the attic, treated more like a child instead of a pet, but sheltered from the outside world. The movie moves along at a proper pace, allowing us to sympathize with Caesar but there is always this unsettling atmosphere that things will eventually go awry. As you perhaps have seen in the trailer/clips, things did go wrong… and we’re treated to one of the most disturbing yet emotional scenes in the film.
The film’s mood grows more sinister as Caesar is moved to a primate shelter owned by the Landon family. Right away we’re shown that the place is no haven for these apes, and Caesar is definitely having a hard time from both his fellow apes and the mistreatment of the caretaker (Tom Felton, taking on another ‘villainous’ role after playing Draco in Harry Potter series).
From this moment on, the apes pretty much dominate the screen, led by the ever so expressive and capable Caesar. To say he steals scenes is putting it mildly, Caesar was mesmerizing and there are moments where he literally took my breath away. Those who’ve seen this film know which part I’m talking about. The apes’ eventual escape is predictable of course, but Caesar’s brilliantly calculated plan was great to watch.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an impressive movie that it kept me engaged from start to finish, there’s no slow or ho-hum second act, or unnecessary ‘fillers’… I feel that every single scene in this film is worthy to be included. The special effects are as impressive as Serkis’ affecting motion-captured performance, I’d love to see both the SFX wizards and the English actor get some nods come award season. The movie also has nice balance between fast-paced action and emotional moments throughout, even the bombastic third act still offers plenty of heart. Now, I don’t know what that say about me when I felt like rooting for the apes, but really, you can’t help it 😀
As for the um, human performances, well I have a few nitpicks, but let’s start with the positive. James Franco‘s melancholy demeanor is perfect for this role, I feel like he genuinely cares for this apes and especially Caesar, but he’s of course torn by all that’s happening. John Lithgow is wonderful as well, and his scenes with Caesar is one of the highlights of the film for me.
Now, the not-so-good. I’ve read some reviews that said Freida Pinto wasn’t given much to do than looking pretty, well I think it’s the other British actors in this movie that really wasn’t given much to do. It’s a pity to see great character actor Brian Cox being so criminally underutilized, his character lacks any real motive and he barely has any screen time. Felton also got the shorter end of the stick as the ‘bully’ with no character nuance whatsoever, the same with David Oyelowo as a one-dimensional corporate exec who’s all about the bottom line.
In any case, I still don’t think those minor quibbles derail the film in any way. I commend UK director Rupert Wyatt—a relative newcomer with only two previous feature films under his belt—for creating such a satisfying film with a ‘whoa’ kind of ending. I think that last quote by Caesar is one for the ages… man, that was a good one!
It’s inevitable there’s sequel talks already given its box office success, and the ending definitely leaves plenty of opportunities for a follow up. Well, I’m game if Wyatt is at the helm. Borrowing a term from a reviewer Jim Napier who I follow on Twitter, this movie is ‘chimptastic!’ 😀
Well, have you seen the movie? Please share your thoughts about the movie below.