Untitled
New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/mr-peabody-sherman/

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

star2star2star2

Fractured Fairy Tales and the entire collection of delightfully odd cartoons they aired with, like Peabody, played an important role in the young lives they touched. They taught history and current events, adultish humor and, perhaps most importantly, they also taught punning. OK, some may feel that was a bane on a generation, but I loved it. So it was with both interest and trepidation I came to this latest Hollywood revival…

I think the best way to describe the film is that it is a mishmash of intents that, while it satisfies, isn’t really the show I remember. It starts from the very beginning where we get a good sense of Peabody. But then it falls into an adoption story… Mr Peabody was never Sherman’s dad. He was more of a mentor to the boy. Also while Sherman was a naif for Peabody’s jokes and information, he wasn’t a buck-toothed idiot. I think this latter part bugged me the most. They explain, present, and use the adoption thread well. However, that such a boy could be that foolish living in that house beggars imagination. It wasn’t that he was naive, he was outright dumb at times… and at other times quite smart. The intent, I think, was to make him socially awkward, but book-smart. However, that wasn’t how it was presented.

Janney (Bad Words) certainly ate up the screen and had great fun with her Cruella De Vil interpretation. She was an entertaining, teeth gnashing villain of the first order. I wish we had understood more about her than we ever do. She ends up just a delightfully evil black-hat with no obvious motivations, which was a shame. Burell (Muppets Most Wanted) did a great Peabody and Charles (Neighbors) did well with what he had for Sherman, actually taking him on a journey despite his incredulous choices.

There is enough here for kids to keep them interested, and some nice adult references as well. As a story it felt rather forced and weak, but it may fit the bill for you, depending on your particular love of the original.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/tale-two-love-stories/

A tale of two love stories

Every once in a while I’ll do a weird double-feature that causes me to rethink the movies involved. The paring is rarely ever created in order to provide insight, but often they reflect on one another in interesting ways; their themes come out differently or are highlighted better for me.

The other night Grand Budapest Hotel followed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier was such a duo. What came of that pairing? The bizarre recognition that they are, at their core, both love stories.

Budapest, once you get through its madcap, nested plot the first time so you can understand it, is clearly a love story. Captain America is a little more complex in the face of that theme. It is both a bromance (in a few ways) and the more or less reconciliation of the jingoistic past coming to terms with a love of justice that needs to supersede an existing national order. I said it was complex, didn’t I? Both films  stand up wonderfully to rewatching,

The fun of experiencing this powerful, base emotion drive the action in different ways in two very different movies was fascinating. I would have never expected to think of Captain America in those terms… afterall, it is just a great, fantasy action film on the surface. But this is part of why the Marvel universe generally, and the Avengers cycles in specific, work so well: They are driven by human emotions on very personal levels, even when it is galaxy-spanning (and often spandex wearing) plots.

I’m not suggesting anyone set up this evening for themselves. It is certainly a whipsaw way to spend a night. But I would encourage you to do double features that may not be obvious and see what revelations they prompt for yourself. You never know what you might discover.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/brick-mansions/

Brick Mansions

star2star2star2

There are definitely some improvements over the original material in this American remake of Besson’s District B-13. In particular, the acting and some of the plot aspects are better considered and worked though. As one of Walker’s  (Fast & Furious 6) last films, though, it isn’t going to seal his place in history. Still, it was relatively entertaining on its own.

The truth, however, is that this reinterpretation lost a lot of the lightness and fun of the original, which was really more a fantasy actioner than a serious one. That oddness was part of both its success and its failures. This new version is just so earnest that it is painful at times. The premise is absurd in both films, though Detroit is a great setting for the plot in Brick Mansions. However, playing it for real stretched credibility, and the chemistry of the main players was all wrong. It needed to be a Rush Hour sort of experience (heck, they even stole at least one of the fight scenes from that franchise), but neither the writer nor director seemed to understand that aspect; it was a mistake on both their parts.

Additionally, the filming of the action was not nearly as good as B-13. Whether that was to cover a weaker Parkour fighter or simply style choices is beside the point. The simple truth is that they lost the jaw dropping choreography that made the original fly (and still does today). It isn’t that there aren’t some good fights, but the quick cuts diminish the believe-ability that a continuous shot approach could provide.

All in all, I’d stick with the original. This isn’t horrible, but it isn’t as much fun on almost any level as Besson’s first crack at this story, even with the outlandishness of a lot of that script. Director Delamarre’s background in editing action films (Colombiana, Lockout) did not really prepare him for this new role. But if  you’ve not seen the original and don’t want to deal with subtitles, it may provide enough entertainment, if not quite the same value, as District B-13

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/zero-theroem/

The Zero Theroem

star2star2star2star2

This musing on life and existential angst is crafted beautifully with Gilliam’s (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) trademark style and sense of twisted worlds.

As good as the film is, it would not work without Waltz (Django Unchained). He creates a delightfully broken man with whom you find yourself both frustrated and sympathizing with at the same time. Confusing and enlightening his world, Thierry (The Hollow Crown) provides a beautifully unapologetic woman of strength and subjugation. The levels of interaction between the two are complex, funny, and heartbreaking.

While somewhat peripheral, Hedges inserts himself into this mess of a relationship and life in a performance whose energy and style echos River Phoenix or a young DiCaprio. It is a meatier part than he’s typically landed (Labor DayGrand Budapest Hotel) and could get him some nice notice.

The triumvirate are surrounded by a plethora of characters, as almost any Gilliam film collects. Damon (The Monuments Men) delivers a controlled and spooky performance not quite like anything I’ve seen him do before. Thewlis (Red 2) provides his trademark sympathetic-weird, as does Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive). Both get their chance to shine in this story, but neither is quite complete or real–they are set dressing and plot pushers only, however entertaining. In a much smaller, amusing role Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) chews up the screen for a few moments as well.

But, ultimately, this is a Gilliam film, even if he didn’t write this one. It feels like the Gilliam of old; the man whose brain fascinates and terrifies. It is probably his most impactful and unique since Brazil, but I’ve loved them all along the way, even Tideland, which most people missed entirely.

While just hitting screens, it started its role-out and continues availability by VOD now, which is how I had to see it. Honestly, if you can see it on the big screen, it deserves that space to better show off all its detail. The richness of the world, the density of the set dressing, and the detail of the composition works on any screen… you just may have to watch it a few extra times to catch it all and all the references to other Gilliam works. This continued choice to rollout on multiple platforms (just like Veronica Mars and Snowpiercer) has me somewhat torn. I love that I have the chance to see and support these films early, rather than having to wait for a disc as they didn’t get screens anywhere near me. However, I am also frustrated as they are often truly big-screen films that are never provided the right venue for a huge part of their audience.

Bottom line, if you love Gilliam this is a must-see film. If you’ve never seen a Gilliam film, this will certainly give you an undiluted taste.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/antboy/

Antboy

star2star2star2

If you come at this thinking of it as a cross between Chronicle and Kick-Ass for the under-10 set, you’ll love it for what it is: silly, comic-book, fantasy fun. Brilliant, no. It really is a kids film. And, sadly for that reason it is also dubbed rather than offering an original language soundtrack. But as a diversion and, especially if you have a youngster around to share it with, it was entertaining.

However, what is most interesting about the film for the adults in the audience is how grounded the story is in our own world. There is a great deal of reference… mostly to Hellboy and similar heroes as a basis for the kids to work from. It keeps it all very anchored, even as it goes to the absurd extremes.

The young cast are all untried, but serve their purpose well. Every kid who’s ever been ignored or bullied in school will understand them. And what kid doesn’t think they are ignored or bullied? Only Bro (Nymphomaniac) has serious credits, and he wades into the villain role with gusto for this piece. And, yepper, there is  sequel just about to release if this one whets your appetite or if you become a fan of Andersen’s books upon which it was based. Even kids super-hero films are franchises these days.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/bad-words/

Bad Words

star2star2star2star2

For a lot of good laughs, and not a small amount of heart, this is a great film to throw in (though definitely a hard PG-13). I imagine it will even rewatch well, and I intend to find out down the road. As a director, Bateman’s (Arrested Development) got a good new path ahead of him and an eye for wickedly funny scripts like this first, evil little confection from Dodge.

Bateman is also one of those incredible actors that can make the nastiest insults work without making you cringe (overmuch, anyway). His bite always has heart; it is a characteristic that has been evident in his work since he was a young kid (It’s Your Move).

Opposite Bateman, Chand (Warner and Serkis‘ new Mowgli coming in 2016) delivers a great performance in a breakout role. Hahn (Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Janney (Trust Me), and Hall flesh out the rest of the plot and world nicely if all just a tad broadly.

Bad Words is Bateman’s first time directing a feature film, but you’d never know it from the quality of the movie. His years in front of the camera and directing TV episodes prepped him well to deliver this very darkly comic tale of … well, that would be telling. While there are few real surprises in the film, there are some nice themes and turns that are worth experiencing without having them spoiled before you go into them.

Curl up with someone whose humor is just a tad twisted and pop this in for a fun night. I’m assuming you have a twisted sense of humor on your own or you’d not likely be reading this blog.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/dark-forces/

Dark Forces

star2star2star2

Also known by its Australian title, Harlequin, this is a bit dated and more than a little earnest, but as a dark suspense film it holds up better than I would have expected. Directed by Wincer, its secret is that it stays somewhat non-committal on what is good and what is evil. Not that good and bad things don’t occur, but even with some direct social commentary, the final balance is not easily either.

Led by Powell, Hemmings, Duncan, and Crawford there is a great deal of teeth gnashing and drama, but it all manages to stay contained enough to not get ridiculous. The story starts out straight forward and then evolves right up to the final frames. While it seems simple, it is really far from that and will leave you feeling just a tad discomforted. Much like the much more recent, and much better, Borgman, the horror is allowed to just be and it is up to you to interpret it in many ways. I almost wish it had gone more in that direction, but still it is an impressive suspense/horror film of a bygone era. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but then it doesn’t take humanity too seriously from the feel of it.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/muppets-wanted/

Muppets Most Wanted

star2star2star2

I had high hopes for this sequel after the mighty return of these fabulous felt friends. But the magic that was in the first film just wasn’t quite there. Though it was conscious of its roots, and had a few great moments, it was generally just a Muppet adventure. And it wasn’t even that great an adventure.

Perhaps what through this film off even more is that it purportedly picks up seconds after the end of the previous film. I expected something more like that than I got. I will say that the lyrics this round, and the musical numbers, were generally more entertaining and, much like the most recent Dhoom, often built into the plot.  But the audience was aimed a bit younger than the last film. That shift made it lost a lot of the adult appeal.

Overall, it was a mildly diverting entertainment with some great cameos and human talent mixed in. But I found myself only paying half-attention through much of it as it just didn’t grab and hold me through story or spectacle. Frankly, it just didn’t have the same heart that the previous movie managed.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/words-pictures/

Words and Pictures

star2star2star2

How could I resist a romance with the art of words and pictures at its very core? Watching each of these characters struggle with their art and their personal limitations as they come to grips with passing the torch and reconnecting with other people is at once both poignant and moving. Suffice to say, this is not an easy romance for either of them. It is a story full of honesty and inevitabilities. The movie accepts human frailty even as it presents uber-human drives. But this is all just subtext to the the relationships.

Overall, there are very conscious references to Dead Poets Society, and less conscious to The History Boys, Taps, and many other high-school tales with hero teachers. Words never devolves fully into any of these, and even, in some ways, is commenting on their particular brand of drama. In this case, the kids are mostly in the background, though they drive the story. It makes for an odd focus, given the main character drives, but it manages to work. It really is a story about the adults.

What really helps the movie rise is the incredible acting talents of Binoche and Owen as the leads. They are each solid in their own right and have a fun chemistry. Their initial meeting is a great bit of direction and helps set both the tone and understanding of what, otherwise, may appear as melodrama or forced character evolution. Binoche, also, actually painted all the canvases attributed to her character, which only raises my opinion of her. Helping them along are a solid batch of character actors, Davison, Brenneman, Kidder, and Tracy to name a few.

Even with all this positive, there is potential in this piece that is never quite achieved. The result is very watchable, but not memorable. The ultimate miss that diminishes the whole is the final few minutes of the film. The climax is acceptable and makes its point, but manages to be unsatisfying despite the lead-up. That alone doesn’t really take the movie from its shelf of peers. The real clincher is the coda, the final 30 seconds, that is directed so poorly to my eye that it felt hollow. I’m not quite sure how Schepisi (Roxanne) hit such a wrong note after guiding the rest of the film so well, but it definitely clunked as utterly forced and untrue.

As a nice evening to curl up with someone, as long as you aren’t looking for pure romantic fluff, this is worth seeing for many of its moments, if not its whole. It probably won’t end up in your go-to list as a person or couple, but it isn’t a waste of time by any stretch. And if you’re a fan of Binoche or Owen, it is worth seeing just for their efforts alone.

New Post has been published on Harold Gross: The 5a.m. Critic

New Post has been published on http://literaryends.com/hgblog/borgman/

Borgman

star2star2star2star2

Evil-as-action-film has been the mainstay for a while now. I’m not sure when it really started, but the Resident Evil series certainly made it a staple and Cabin in the Woods lampooned it all while still making it part of the genre beautifully. But there was a time before that when fighting evil was a more cerebral and quiet event, even if often bloody and terrifying. From Turn of the Screw to The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby, there are many examples of taught, terrifying tales of good versus evil.

Borgman is more a throwback to these quietly intense scares. It goes for a more natural, creepy, disturbing approach. Warmerdam wrote and directed this as, mostly, a family drama, not unlike Rosemary’s Baby, but without even some of the more intense moments of dread that Levin and Polanski put into that story. Events just “are,” there is little or no commentary or judgments on the actions or outcomes from those in the film. In fact, that is a great part of the chill that suffuses the experience.

Jan Bijvoet (Broken Circle Breakdown) embraces his lead role with quiet intensity. He drifts into the lives of others and begins his work. He is supported by a great and talented cast, few who will be familiar to US audiences. Without all of the cast committing to the realism of the piece, it would have fallen completely flat.

The design of the film, in service to that approach, is also interesting. It is both clean-lined and sumptuous, warm yet sharp-edged. The movie has very little scoring, though there are many subtle pieces of sound f/x and soundtrack aspects to provide mood and information. It attempts in every way to feel natural despite the events unfolding in front of you. It begins and ends without much comment.

Borgman is one of the more haunting and chilling films of the genre I’ve seen in a while. It hangs on you like a miasma when it is done; you won’t be able to just walk away and forget it like so many other horror films that provide catharsis. It just isn’t intended to let it be that easy… and that is part of the point.