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The Breakfast Club

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Examinations of teenage angst never go out of style because there are always more teenagers… and because all adults still have the core of questioning that allows them to relate to those feelings.

The funny thing is that even though I’ve seen this film many times, I always remember it as being much more energetic and action packed. It is more a Socratic (and, at times, sophomoric) musing on life than it is a high-energy confrontation of youth and authority. It really is just youth confronting itself. And that is why it endures 30 years later. It is simple and honest, if a bit unbelievable in its plot.

Writer/director Hughes set the tone for an entire generation, directing four of the most remembered films of his decade: Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He also wrote Home Alone, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and a host of other scripts. He became the voice of teenagers and set the tone for a particular brand of general audience comedy for years. He also launched the careers of many actors who are still going strong today.

If you haven’t revisited this film recently, or perhaps missed it, dig it out and spend a rainy afternoon remembering/experiencing the questions and triumphs it has to offer. If not for the message, watch it and realize there isn’t a single character in there that didn’t go on to bigger things in film and TV… and see them when they were a heck of a lot younger.

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The Double

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More often seen or heard in front of camera, director and co-writer Ayoade (Submarine) deftly creates a Dostoevsky-ian world that is at once moody and modern despite feeling like some twisted version of the already twisted Brazil. It takes its time sucking you in, but once it gets going, you just have to watch to see what happens, no matter how frustrating the situations get.

Eisenberg (Now You See Me) does a great job playing two roles. They are a little exaggerated in order to provide the delineation, but there are some subtleties in hand movement and other aspects as well that make it fun to watch. Wasikowska (Only Lovers Left Alive) comes at this almost Chekovian… she would not be out of place in The Seagull. While she serves her purpose, it isn’t an overly complex performance. Then again, it isn’t an overly complex world or character.

A smattering of other known actors in cameos and supporting roles pepper the story including Moriarty (But I’m a Cheerleader), O’Dowd (The Sapphires, Moone Boy), Shawn (A Late Quartet), all of whom add to the bizarre nature and results of the story.  Roberts (Red Lights), Paige, Taylor (Almost Famous), and Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), also all from Submarine, make appearances as, I’m sure, a favor to Ayoade.

The movie itself is relatively short and clever. It is beautifully designed down to the tiniest detail and, as indicated, remains reminiscent of early Gilliam, without the sense of humor. Still, it is worth a single watch and Ayoade is worth keeping an eye on in future as well.

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Trust Me

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In the mood for a dark look at the underbelly of ambition and Hollywood? This film will fit the bill, but the story may frustrate as much as entertain you. There is some black comedy throughout, but it quickly spirals into something more disturbing.

To be fair, the opening moment of this movie lets you know it isn’t going to be just a dark romp. In fact, that first frame unavoidably elicits images of Gregg’s infamous scene in The Avengers. Given that he wrote and directed the story, I can only believe that was intentional. But Howard is only related to Coulson in that both characters have hidden depths of emotion.

This is Gregg’s second feature at the helm writing and directing. Both aspects are a a little rougher than his earlier Choke, or perhaps the material isn’t quite as good a marriage of his approach? Whether the directing choices he made serve a particular purpose, based on a comment in the script near the very end, or are simply misleading the audience is an open question. Honestly, I think it was an overbeaten drum of a theme that ended up misleading. Starring in the movie probably made the effort trickier as well, though he got great performances out of his cast.

Sharbino (Touch) delivers a brilliant performance that is alternately heartwarming and chilling. She brings Lydia to life exactly as the script intends and makes her story believable.

As the tough studio exec, Huffman (Phoebe in Wonderland, Sports Night) provides the reality and cold calculation of the studio machine. While her real-life husband, Macy (The Sessions), gets a great throw-away role.

A trio of folks from the The Way Way Back take on additional roles. Peet (Bent) provides a nice focus, if not too different from her other roles. Janney (The Oranges) delivers an interestingly balanced character that is at once pragmatic as she is emotional. Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths) is a bit broad in his role… and the least believable for me. I’d like to have seen him reigned in a little as the over-the-top effort didn’t add intended humor and only diminished my ability to believe the action.

Overall, the film holds together and I give Gregg credit for his willingness to tackle tougher stories and uncomfortable plots. He has some chops and the contacts to cast well. I’ve been spotting him for years and now that he is finally breaking out (which started with New Adventures of Old Christine) he should have the means to experiment more and add some good pieces to the indie universe.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

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I think the last Jarmusch film I active sought out was Night on Earth. This latest offering of his is a bizarre homage and rethink of the vampire tale: funny, romantic, dark, unique, and bizarre. It is, much like Byzantium, a more realistic and considered tale of what it means to be immortal. It also is a fascinating exploration of what it is both to be and not be human.

What makes this movie different is that the tale is told utterly from Swinton’s (Snowpiercer) and Hiddleston’s (Hollow Crown) points of view, with a little help from Wasikowska (Stoker) and Hurt (1984). Their relationship to the rest of the world is amoral or, perhaps, differently moral. The pace and choices are not for our benefit to see as mirrors but really trying to depict them as the creatures they are; there is no humanity. Yelchin (Odd Thomas) serves as our main point of human contact and as the reverse mirror and commentary of the typical vampire movie in a particularly visual scene. It should also be noticed that, in a weird twist, this is the most normal character I’ve seen Swinton play since Michael Clayton.

The film is far from simple or straight-forward. There are tantalizing hints as to how the world works that are never quite resolved. It is intended as a musing on the nature of deep love and long relationships, which it explores in many ways. It is certainly an indictment of modern life and culture. There are unavoidable echos of The Hunger, but this is not a horror film nor does it center on the desire for immortality… frankly, it is rather the opposite: trying to find a purpose in immortality. How you interpret the ending likely depends on what you were looking for in the film and how you feel about the themes. I’ve reconsidered my thoughts on it many times in just 48 hours!

Though told at a slow pace, Lovers is hypnotic and intense, thanks to the performances and the beautiful cinematography.  It isn’t a movie for everyone; Jarmusch just isn’t a director for everyone. Even given that concern, I’d still recommend this for anyone looking for some great acting and an intelligent script that makes this film unique to the genre.

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Gambit

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A silly, somewhat predictable English farce of a caper film very much in a 70s style, though set in the present. Knowing it was written by the Coen brothers made the stylistic aspects stand out, but Hoffman’s (The Last Station) directing is far from their brand of control over such efforts. It is more Pink Panther than Raising Arizona with a bit of Walter Mitty thrown in. It is, in fact, this last bit that throws the movie off considerably as it eats up a chunk of the beginning, confusing the narrative.

Diaz (A Liar’s Autobiography) is more than a little over-the-top, broadly playing a Texas rodeo star. Rickman (CBGB) as well gets to chomp his teeth into an absurd character and shake his head about. Firth (St. Trinian’s) does what Firth does best… an intelligent, somewhat lost man with a conscience and sense of wounded dignity. Oddly, however, despite the action and the cast, this is Courtenay’s (Quartet) film from a narrative aspect, though he remains at the fringes for the entire piece.

As a distraction, the film is more than fine, but it is far form Hoffman’s best effort. If you need a silly caper film for an evening, it works as that, but not much more.

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The Honourable Woman

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This is the latest British series to be a star vehicle for an American, and Gyllenhaal (Hysteria) carries the story well. Her quiet, practiced delivery provides a solid central pillar, full of cracks, that make her character very complex. She is joined by Rea (Underworld: Awakening), Azabel (Incendies), McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Best (Nurse Jackie), and Buchan (Broadchurch). All of these characters are provided rich backgrounds and motivations which add to the depth of the story. McTeer, however, gets the best moment of the series very near the end… and I’m sure it is why she took the part; it was almost worth the 8 episodes just to get to that amazing slap-down.

However, looking at the entire series, the “secret” that drives the first 6 episodes just isn’t worth dying for. And make no mistake, the stakes are that high from the beginning. This pulls some of the tension and credibility out of the story as we try to understand everyone’s actions. There are, of course, many things going on to help move it all forward despite that deflation and final revelations. In fact, there are really two parallel plots that intersect at various moments but, much like real life, remain rather separate.

Ultimately, this is a contemplative piece whose action and suspense thrill ride are designed to spark debate and internal reflection. It also continues a theme and view of international politics that should disturb Americans. It isn’t the fastest 8 episodes, but it will pull you along and, ultimately, it does pay off in some surprising ways. The credibility of that ending is less important than the point that is being made. And, honestly, it is a point worth making.

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True Detective

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I’m late to this one… really late compared to most folks, but it took a while to get the discs. In the meantime the hype continued to grow around this twisted and odd bit of detective lore.

McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Harrelson (Out of the Furnace) did do an amazing job of believably creating a couple of very odd men at various ages in their lives.  Monaghan (Source Code) also turned in a strong performance across the lifetime of a character and has the best role outside of the leads to work with. In fact, she has the only full life in the entire plot that I could spot, which is, in part, the purpose she serves. The script, however, is just a little too self-conscious and overdone for me. Some of the “mysteries” are just obvious while some of the speeches, which I know were a highlight for many people, were just too poet-detective in a way that was anything but “true” to me.

It wasn’t until the last couple episodes that the story felt at all real. for me. And, in particular, it was the penultimate episode that rang true. Did we need the 6 episode run up to set the context that made that all work? I’m dubious. And the conclusion, while somewhat in keeping with the story, felt forced. These event series often try too hard to be unique and different. At least they won’t be stretched out over multiple years to really pull it all too thin for enjoyment. Certainly, the series is full of visual glory, and there are a number of pedantic discussions that, in isolation, were entertaining. It also has a spectacularly haunting opening credits sequence. For all these aspects alone, it is diverting enough to check out. Whether it satisfies you on all aspects will be based on what it is you need to sate your mystery and character needs.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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OK, I admit it, this was more entertaining than I expected. After being rather disappointed with the first reboot, they seemed to get a bit back on track with the characters, even if they are drifting off the source material more and more.

I can say that the overly comic book style of the plot kept distracting me from the more grounded aspects of the movie. Seriously, after going to such great lengths to make the world more scientifically believable, they choose eel bites to make you near magical? And, honestly, the F/X were sub-par most of the time. I just didn’t quite believe I was watching Spider-Man fly through the air, though I still love how gangly and barely in control they depict it.

What saved this film at all was the acting. Fields (Lincoln), in particular, did a great job providing heart and some sense of depth. Garfield (The Social Network) and Stone (The Croods), both of whom I enjoy on screen, make a great, believable, and compelling couple. DeHaan (Kill Your Darlings) did what he could with the script. Foxx (White House Down), while working his part hard, was too much of a cardboard cut-out for me. I couldn’t feel sorry for him, though the near-schizophrenic quality to his story was quite a nice touch. Ultimately, his evolution, literal and figurative, was too great to swallow.

Of course, part of the issue with the movie was, like Man of Steel, they were too focused on creating their franchise and future possibilities than focusing on a story. And the spine of the story they did have was a repeat of the first movie. Admittedly, it is a recurring theme for Spidey, but if you’re going to remake the myths, you might as well improve upon it.

So, sure it was entertaining, but it was a mixed bag on delivery. Given that the third movie was pushed off a couple years so they could get out the Sinister Six, I’m not sure how committed they really are to the characters. So invest your time, but don’t get too invested. Who knows if they’ll reboot it again before too long?

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A Liar’s Autobiography/Anatomy of a Liar

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Another great love letter to the Python gang, much like Holy Flying Circus. Liar’s is as irreverent and silly and funny and pithy as you’d expect when detailing the life of one of its main comedy writers. Even better, though told from beyond the grave, it is voiced by the subject himself. How more Python can you get?

Graham Chapman died in 1989, but had recorded a reading of his book A Liar’s Autobiography not long before that final event. Those recordings were divided between various animation teams to create a movie Chapman likely would have much approved of, and not just because it is with his own words and voice.

The story, for all its fanciful digressions and fibs has a kernel of truth in all its sections. Identifying or guessing at those truths is part of the fun. Realizing how much is close to reality is part of the enlightenment. But even in its darkest moments, it finds humor to keep it all going, much like the man himself.

This is a wonderful pair of films, though Anatomy is really more background to the film itself, how it came to be, and some insight into what was really true. Adds up to an entertaining and fascinating evening if you enjoy Python.

 

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The Wriggling Death arrives on Pseudopod

After many years, one of my favorite stories has arrived in audio format on Pseudopod.org.

The Wriggling Death has had a long career of private readings at cons and a brief stint in print, for which I was never paid. That brief bit in print also cost me my first print rights, so I’d been looking for someone who would reprint it for ages. Pseudopod was recommended by several colleagues and, lo and behold, they picked it several months back… and released the production today.  And, yes, they did provide remuneration, so good on them on several counts!

I haven’t even listened yet, but I trust the group based on other podcasts of theirs, and the story was made for live reading. So listen comment back there and here. This one is dark, twisted, and blackly humorous; at least that is the intent. I hope to have an epub version of the tale available soon as well.

Pseudopod.org is a free site, though donations are, of course, encouraged. Go. Listen. Repeat.