Furiouser and Furiouser

Fast and Furious 6

By Hope Madden

 

There’s this code, see. And while Fast & Furious 6 doesn’t spell it out, I gather it has something to do with steroids and bald heads.

Six! Can you believe this is the sixth installment in this street-racers-turned-international-thieves-turned-good-guys series? Boy, that time sure slid by in a sheen of muscle oil and turtle wax, didn’t it?

Well, this go-round Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson participate in a big-and-bald-off for a little over two hours while some limey tries to steal a world-ending computer chip. Who cares about that, though, when Dominic has Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) to bring back?!

It is nice having Rodriguez back in the cast. Her level of skill is debatable, but her face is an impressive mask of undiluted contempt. Director Justin Lin wisely pairs her with MMA ass kicker Gina Carano, meaning she finally has the opportunity at a fair fight. Otherwise she’d have just had to make the rest of the cast her bitches and be done with it.

Flanking Rodriguez is the predictable assortment of hulks and hotties. Paul Walker took a break from his rockin’ career in pizza delivery to join Pumpasaurus Rex and the Pec-tets. Meanwhile, Tyrese Gibson gets the chance to be uncharacteristically but intentionally funny.

Diesel’s comic moments are more unintentional. He’s unflappable, sporting a weirdly peaceful expression and spouting lines like, “What you found out is for you. What we do now is for her.” He’s like a gravelly voiced Buddha.

Dwarfing Buddha is the enormous Johnson, whose performance feels eerily familiar – same head cock, same arched eyebrow, even the same undersized Under Armour tees. Yes, I believe he may have just wandered accidentally over from the GI Joe set. I think I heard him call Toretto Cobra Commander just now.

Eventually it seemed clear that my best course of action was to unplug the brainstem and let the loud noises and pretty colors wash over me. Ignore the “plot”, disregard the “acting”, and just appreciate the well choreographed car chases and fisticuffs. It was working, too – a little MMA, a little old school WWE and a whole lot of girlfight – until Act 3 reared its bulbous head.

No power to suspend disbelief is strong enough to contend with the epic ridiculousness of the final reel or two of this film.

I’ll have to try harder with FF7, I guess.

Verdict-2-0-Stars

 

Two Sides of Soderbergh for Your Queue

 

This week, the latest from director Steven Soderbergh is out on DVD, and we’ll pair it with one of his earliest for a twofer from a guy whose style is hard to pin down.  Side Effects is a mystery thriller inside the world of pharmaceuticals, a new addition to his string of mid-budget genre pics. As is often the case with this particular genre, to say much more would be to give away too much. Coursing with Soderbergh’s cynicism and varnished with his laid back style, the film has more in store for you than the diatribe against Big Pharm it appears to deliver at first.

If you’re looking for something really, really different from the same filmmaker, let us recommend his 1996 effort Schizopolis. It is among the weirdest films you’ll ever see. Created as a way to clear Soderbergh’s creative cobwebs, this intensely self indulgent work (we mean that in the best way) follows Fletcher Munson (Soderbergh), speechwriter and emotionally distant husband, and dentist/doppelganger Jeffrey Korchek (Soderbergh again) through the obsessions that keep them from noticing the unsavory behavior of Elmo Oxygen. Or something.

She Bangs, Albeit Unintentionally

Big Bangs

Bangs are very in, I’m repeatedly told as I throw a mild fit in front of friends and strangers. Michelle Obama, Zooey Deschanel and others have brought them back into fashion. But since I’ll never be accused of fashion trendsetting, I don’t care. I didn’t want them.

I just wanted a trim. That’s what I told the lady, assuming that meant she would take basically the same length off every hair on my head, leaving me with more or less the same haircut I’d received the last time I visited.

Sure, I’m not very up on cosmetology jargon. And I can see where it might be hard to figure out what a style is supposed to look like once it’s lapsed as horribly as mine had. Still, who thought “I need a trim” could be interpreted as “Please give me a dramatically different hair cut. One that will be terribly difficult to grow out. And if you could, please make me look exactly like I did in 1987.”

Who would want that? No one – no one – looked good in 1987, least of all me. I should just put on a Warrant tee shirt and some acid washed jeans and pretend I’m the ghost of Tiffin, Ohio past.

So I have bangs. Again. Big, thick bangs.

Like when I was 1.

12 months

 

And in preschool (the glasses only enhance my beauty)…

3

 

High school (not everyone carries their sunglasses to commencement, but given my pallor, I obviously was unused to bright light)…

highschool

 

And on into my adult life. (A super cute baby distracts a young mother from her awful hair.)

parenthood

 

Indeed, of my many years on this planet, I believe I have lived bang-free for maybe a total of a decade. It’ s not like it takes months and months of relentless hideousness to grow thick bangs out to match the rest of your stupidly long hair or anything. No one over 9 years old should be wearing barrettes, is what I’m saying.

And now, through no honest fault of my own, they are back.

Before long I’ll be ordering in tomato soup every time it rains!

Curse you, Zooey Deschanel!

 

 

 

Outtakes: Revenge of the Nerdy Movies

Space log June 27, 1966. Jeffrey Jacob Abrams is born. His purpose: to make nerds feel cool. To succeed he will need to drink at their teat, study their bible, learn their ways and still maintain his hipster sheen. Only then will he be able to rethink and re-present their culture. He will begin here.

5. Tron (1982)

This was almost Harry Potter, but one of the brethren – a computer programmer/coder who role played throughout high school – said no. Tron was the film we wanted, the film Abrams would need to study, philosophize about, fantasize about. Isn’t Tron simply the video game Pong with day glo cycle suits, you ask? That sound you hear? The brethren scoffing at your naïveté.

4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Of the four options, why is The Hobbit the chosen, the precious? Because 3D and IMAX technology aren’t enough for uber-nerd Peter Jackson. His vision requires the added dimension of a High Frame Rate. How high? Forty eight frames per second, bitches – because twice as high is just enough.

3.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

If a young Abrams didn’t refer to himself as a Knight who says Ni, well, all is lost, isn’t it?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LG1PlkURjxE

2. Star Wars series (1977 onward)

The teat. Abrams will next attempt to cast his spell and reboot this franchise. Is it the nerdiest of all? Some years ago, ace reporter Triumph the Insult Comic Dog chatted up a group of Star Wars fans who were strong with the nerd force. He asked one, who was in full Darth Vader regalia, “Which one of these buttons calls your parents to come pick you up?” The prosecution rests.

1. Star Trek (a 5-year mission extends into the unknowable future)

The bible. The original TV series would have been enough, but the cult was so strong it brought forth numerous films and TV spinoffs. Now Abrams has rebooted the whole thing, making it cool while simultaneously re-introducing Tribbles and sparking arguments about why Khan doesn’t have an accent and Carol Markus does. And Pike can’t really be dead, right?

Feel like bathing in the nectar of nerdery? Back to back to back to back….trailers, and Orson Welles narrates the original!

Worthy of a White Flag

 

by George Wolf

 

From 1973 to 1998, Terrence Malick created a grand total of three films. He must be slamming down the energy drinks, because it just the last eight years, he’s finished three, with three more currently in post-production.

The latest release is To the Wonder, a sort of companion piece to the brilliant and beautiful The Tree of Life from 2011. This time, Malick’s mind is on the mysteries of love, both physical and spiritual.

Those who were perplexed by the abstract nature of The Tree of Life will be even more challenged by To The Wonder. Unlike Tree, it does not have a tangible narrative at its core, existing mainly as a series of exquisite montages undercut with whispers of philosophical dialogue.

Of course, writer/director Malick does have a philosophy degree from Harvard, so he’s in his element.

The film’s abstract centerpeice is the relationship of Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). They meet while Neil is traveling in Marina’s native Ukraine, eventually settling (along with her 10 year old daughter) in his home state of Oklahoma.

When things get rocky, she finds emotional comfort through Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest who has begun to question his own faith. As Neil and Marina pull farther from each other, Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), a girlfriend from years past.

Malick is often elusive, and it would be easy to dismiss To the Wonder as a beautifully filmed commercial for a dating service, as lovers playfully chase after one another,  romping in tall grass with adoration in their eyes.

Look deeper, and you’ll find a meditation on troubled souls struggling for spiritual fulfillment.  Affleck is rarely held in the frame and barely heard, suggesting his character may not represent flesh and blood at all, but rather a faith-based spirit with which the other characters are striving to bond.

Much like the love Malick is exploring, his film requires a certain amount of surrender. Though not the wondrous success The Tree of Life was, To the Wonder is worthy of a white flag.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty as a Picture

Renoir

By Hope Madden

Want to see something pretty? Gilles Bourdos has your movie. His latest effort, Renoir, offers a lush imagining of one summer in the great Impressionist’s waning years.

Bourdos’s eye for sumptuous, colorful beauty creates its own work of art worthy of the topic. Hopefully the bathing, posing and lunching in the lush backdrop is enough entertainment for you, though, because Bourdos is more in this for the picturesque glory of it than for any hard storytelling.

Yes, his story is slight. Within what amounts to an extended family gathering, what tale there is centers on the new life brought to the group by the artist’s final muse, and his son’s first.

Christa Theret plays Andee, a fiery beauty who reinvigorates the old painter and beguiles his son Jean. Theret injects Bourdos’s restrained loveliness with what drama it has to offer, and her performance matches her beauty.

Michel Bouquet offers an authentic, curmudgeonly turn as Renoir the elder, while the smitten Jean (Vincent Rotthiers) and the unhappy Coco (Thomas Doret, so wonderful in The Kid with a Bike) likewise benefit from solid performances.

But, like the Renoir men, you’ll miss Theret when she’s not around because everything else is a bit too tame.

Throughout the whole serene, gorgeous, relatively uneventful 111 minutes, the most interesting bits involve the actual act of painting. Bourdos’s camera often squares on the image of a bandaged, arthritic old hand as it dabbled white onto a canvas with the muted figures of an image you’ve certainly seen before. How did he manage to capture the active recreation of famous works in their early stages?

He hired Guy Ribes, a convicted art forger once jailed for faking Renoir works, to act as Renoir’s hands. Nice!

Such is the length the filmmaker is willing to go to create a film that looks for all the world like a Renoir. It doesn’t do much else, to be honest, but if you are looking for a lulling and lovely way to waste a couple hours, here’s your film.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

For more complete information on the artist, visit Artsy’s Pierre-Auguste Renoir page HERE

Going Boldly

by George Wolf

 

Look, when you’re wrong, you gotta wear the hat, so fit me with a big Star Trek sombrero.

Four years ago, I thought rebooting the franchise with an origin story was a silly idea. Silly me. In the hands of director/producer J.J Abrams, it has taken on a new relevance, and the second effort from Abrams, Into Darkness, is a spectacular success on all fronts.

From the opening sequence, Abrams settles into a breakneck pace, filling the screen with a rousing combination of action, effects, heart and humor that rarely lets up.

The ace up Abrams’s sleeve? His cast. These are characters ingrained into pop culture, and our emotional investment in them is rewarded. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban play Kirk, Spock and Bones with the mischievous twinkle of youth. Without resorting to caricature, all three actors are utterly believable as younger versions of these rogues we know so well.

They are surrounded by an able supporting cast, most notably Benedict Cumberbatch as Harrison, the deadly villain with mysterious motives and a great big Enterprise surprise.

Star Trek screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman return, joining with Damon Lindelof to script a thrilling adventure filled with multiple callbacks to previous film installments and TV episodes.

Quite simply, there isn’t much to dislike. Into Darkness is a finely crafted spectacle, all that a summer blockbuster should be. It is joyously nerdy, yet cool enough for those who wouldn’t know Nurse Chapel from Nurse Ratched. It’s funny, and true to its sci-fi roots while offering sly parallels with today’s political climate.

Next up for Abrams is a new Star Wars sequel, and fans should rest easy. Into Darkness is more proof the man knows a thing or two about making a franchise live long and prosper.

What I mean is, boldly go to the theatre.

Sorry.

Kirk out!

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

Greetings from Father and Son

by George Wolf

 

You might expect a film biography of legendary singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley to provide a heroic overview of his short life and conclude with his stirring version of Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah.”

Greetings from Tim Buckley doesn’t cater to such cliches. Instead, it focuses on a brief period in Buckley’s pre-stardom days to carve out a satisfying look at a young artist struggling to find his voice.

Much of that struggle involved coming to terms with the legacy left by Tim Buckley, the father he barely knew. Tim released nine albums before his fatal overdose at age 28, and director/co-writer Daniel Algrant anchors the film around a 1991 tribute concert held in Tim’s honor.

That show was also Jeff Buckley’s performing debut, and Algrant intersperses Jeff’s nervous preparation with flashbacks to Tim’s nomadic life on the road in the 1960s.

A movie such as this rises and falls on the lead actor, and Penn Badgley, known mostly from TV’s “Gilmore Girls,” delivers a star-making performance. He not only has the look, but Badgley does his own singing in the film, coming damn close to Buckley’s haunting wail.

Though there are a few moments of TV movie mentality, when moody pouting is meant to convey inner turmoil, Badgley and Algrant prove to be a formidable team.

By ’91, Jeff had yet to conquer the New York club circuit, and was still three years away from making Grace, his only studio album. In bypassing the more well-known aspects of Jeff’s story, the film gains a spark of originality. Small, contrasting moments, such as Jeff”s playful vocal outbursts and his quiet desire to drop by one of his father’s old apartments, provide effective glimpses of a young man not knowing quite what to make of his destiny.

In a similar vein, crisscrossing the lifelines not only provides father and son an ethereal connection on film, but also reinforces the scars left by the lack of any actual bond.

Sadly, Jeff also met an early grave, drowning in 1997.  Through Algrant’s respectful treatment, and Badgley’s effective portrayal, Greetings from Tim Buckley should please fans and give the uninitiated an urge to look deeper into the family legacy.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzPFzewscKg

 

 

 

 

 

Fundamentally Flawed

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

By Hope Madden

“Have you ever been brought a split second of pleasure at arrogance brought low?”

This line and the moments in The Reluctant Fundamentalist preceding it require the skill of a nimble actor; one who has not yet betrayed his character’s allegiances or true nature and who can balance what’s been revealed with what has yet to be unearthed.

Riz Ahmed is not that actor.

He’s proven his mettle in previous efforts – most ably in the dark comedy Four Lions – but he can’t rise above the condescending tone director Mira Nair creates as his character – Pakistani born, Princeton educated Changez – spins an enlightening tale to an American journalist (Liev Schreiber).

The son of a poet, Changez grew up hungry for the financial opportunities offered by the American dream, but chasing that dream during the upheaval of 9/11 caused him to rethink his priorities, his heritage, and his relationship with the US. Back in Pakistan, he finds himself a person of CIA interest when his white colleague at the university is abducted.

An international thriller seems an odd choice for Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake), but the tender, internal complications of a culture clash are certainly in her wheelhouse. Unfortunately, she does not deliver the tempo of a thriller, and her cast underwhelms with the emotional turmoil.

Nair’s team of screenwriters reworked Mohsin Hamid’s novel, clarifying ambiguities, patronizing characters and audience alike, and generally strangling the prose into submission. The film is after the element of audacity in the author’s work, but neglects the underlying earnestness that earns it.

The cast doesn’t help much. Ahmed may be in over his head, but Kate Hudson fails entirely. Her grieving lover unready for a relationship feels more like an intellectually stunted, artistically talentless flirt who’s only just awakened from a nap.

The usually reliable Schreiber has little opportunity, but his final image dooms his performance as well. Meanwhile, Keifer Sutherland is miscast and Nelsan Ellis once again settles for stereotype rather than character.

Characteristically, Nair mines the work for unexpected humor, which helps the film keep an unsure footing. Given the story being told and lessons being learned, this is an important victory. Her visual flair adds vibrancy to the sometimes dry story as well, and there are elements of Hamid’s work that still shine brightly enough to command your attention throughout the film’s running time.

Plus, let’s be honest, as culture clash and terrorism on film go, at least it’s not Java Heat.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfC45oq_drU

Heady Business for Your Queue

Out this week on DVD and Blu Ray is the surprisingly watchable Cloud Atlas – a challenging yet accessible sci-fi fantasy. Nesting six stories inside each other, Atlas connects human souls over generations, from a 19th Century shipwrecked notary to a clone awaiting execution in a dystopian future and onward. The large cast is anchored by solid performances from Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturgess, all playing multiple roles as settings quickly move across time and space.

Viewed individually, some of the segments do struggle to keep silliness at bay, making the nearly three hour running time feel a bit bloated. As a whole, though, Cloud Atlas is ambitious, often visually stunning, and constantly fascinating.

For an even stronger existential dream across time and space, check out Terrence Malick’s glorious 2011 effort, The Tree of Life. As gorgeous a film as you’ll find, Malick’s rumination on innocence lost boasts magnificent performances from Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. It’s a masterpiece of a film, as big an effort as anything Malick or any other director has tackled. Talk about ambitious!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXRYA1dxP_0

Hope Madden and George Wolf … get it?