Archive for January, 2014

Winter Movie Round Up 2013-14

Monday, January 20th, 2014

american-hustle-posters-sony

The Wolf of Wall Street

Not only a disappointment, but dishonest. It’s a disappointment because it’s Martin Scorsese and also because it’s three hours of numbing, repetitive hedonistic behavior with about five minutes of punishment or redemption at the end. It’s like one of those reality hour shows about Super Nannies, where the first 55 minutes are the child out of control breaking shit and causing chaos and driving everyone nuts, and then the last five minutes he has miraculously been tamed and is a repentant saint. The premise being we just want to see the bad behavior over and over and over again like pigs in slop. Wrong. Boring.

wolf-of-wall-street-02The dishonesty is casting a movie Adonis like Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead. The movie is based on a true story about a toxic little gremlin from Queens, but would you really want to watch a Jason Alexander snorting coke off a woman’s ass or having sex with beautiful naked chicks for three hours? Not a chance. But that would have been a more honest depiction of how the lust for money corrupts and ultimately is hideous. How do we know all those gorgeous women weren’t hopping onto his lap because… because he’s freakin’ Leonardo DiCaprio!? I read where DiCaprio defended the picture by saying you’re supposed to get disgusted with the guy. But if you really wanted to send that message, why not have all those naked models hopping on top of Gilbert Gottfried? Then I would be disgusted and I might also get the point.

The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-Trailer7a

Martin ScorseseAlso, did Scorsese actually think he was making a comedy allowing his actors to do improv-like schtick for way too long in each scene? It didn’t work, and just came over as grating and undisciplined from an editing point of view.

American Hustle

Pass the goombah hair gel, because David O Russell just out-Scorsesed Martin for a three hour film that holds up both thematically, visually and with fantastic ensemble acting. The lead here is also a nebbish, but at least Christian Bale has made himself out to look like a putz, with an ugly comb over, glasses and 60 extra pounds of flab. So by the time the hot babe Amy Adams hooks up with him to pull the fast cons, we get that she’s in it mostly for the game. The theme that everyone is playing everyone else, whether in a money con or a marriage con comes across both humorously and profoundly. That’s how you make your point. Here’s a director firing on all cylinders at the top of his game, and pulling career performances out of an ensemble of actors doing the same.

Christian Bale;Bradley Cooper

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

smaug-eye-featureThis festival of innovative action sequences was far more entertaining than the first Hobbit film. I still dislike films that overuse CGI instead of real stunts, but at least this film is SUPPOSED to be a fantasy. The barrel chasing scene down the river with the dwarves was fantastic to the point where I would need to study the storyboards just to catch all the clever little bits of action that were off-handedly thrown in. The dragon sequence, which filled almost the last whole third of the film, was also a revelation in the good use of CGI enhanced with the ironic twist that Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) was facing off against
Bilbo - The Hobbit 2 MovieSherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug).

You still feel a bit cheated when a film ends in a cliffhanger that just whets your appetite for the next installment, but it doesn’t come as a shock and we all trust Peter Jackson to deliver the goods. Plus, I’m old enough to remember when the Flash Gordon serials played at the movie theaters and always ended with a cliffhanger. And those model rockets on strings were a hell of a lot less convincing than a CGI Smaug. But it also just goes to show how much audiences used to have to contribute their own imaginations to form the reality on screen without the technology doing all the work it does today.

Anchorman 2

I confess that the only reason I even saw this film was because I was given the wrong time for the film I was trying to see (Wolf of Wall Street) and I just had to find the next convenient film showing. That is not enough reason to justify seeing this dreck.
anchorman-2-adam-mckay
The only way it conceivably would have been funny to me is maybe watching after a six pack of beers in a theater full of giddy drunk frat boys. It’s the same basic joke over and over – Ron Burgundy is clueless – but without any cleverness. And why have such a great ensemble of comic talent like Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell if you’re going to hog the entire picture for yourself?

The main gripe I have with this picture is personal: It never fails that when a comic performer is successful, they suddenly think they can WRITE. So instead of seeking out or giving the gig to original material written by a refreshingly new or experienced comic screenwriters (hint hint) who have carefully woven something with great structure and sustaining twists and turns for a comic star, they hog all the action and the money. Anchorman-2-Poster1They just sit in a room with their buddies and make it up as they go along (you too, Seth Rogan). And it shows. There’s just no way to sustain two hours of Will Ferrell mugging. Never mind that no comedy should exceed ninety minutes or risk wearing out its welcome, period. No comedy sequel should be made built on something other than a finished and polished script before cameras roll. If you want to self-indulgently or metaphorically masturbate on film, don’t assume we want to watch. Jokes only work in service of a good story, not the other way around.

PHILOMENA

Philomena

Here’s the perfect film to cleanse the palate. Real characters you actually care about. I love the odd couple combination of a cynical younger atheist writer and a remarkably accepting and gracious elderly woman who has infinitely more reason to be an atheist or cynical, but sticks to her faith instead.

real philomenaHow do they affect each other when joining up to search for a son she felt she had no choice to give up more than 50 years ago? I heard the real Philomena interviewed on NPR talking about the scene where she last saw the son she raised until 3 years old looking out the back window of the car as it was driving away forever. How could she ever get over that? How could she ever forgive herself? Or others who forced her hand? And how can you miss Dame Judith Dench fully inhabiting the role of Philomena to show you just how movingly she did. You will never forget, either.

 

– A. Wayne Carter

 

 

 

 

Time Enough At Last?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

timeenoughatlastHappy New Year!

The classic The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” features Burgess Meredith as a harried bank employee and henpecked husband who longs to have peaceful time alone to read his beloved books. When nuclear annihilation of the world occurs while he’s safely hiding in a bank vault reading during his lunch hour, he emerges to a new dawn where he has no responsibilities other than ‘all the time in the world’ to read. He gathers books into piles on the library steps assigning each pile a future year to read, and then clumsily drops and shatters his Coke bottle glasses, essentially leaving himself blind.

Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Aesop’s Fables as their moral compass or their primer on the karmic twists and cruel ironies of life – we got all those lessons on The Twilight Zone.

And there is no more cruel irony than realizing you are in the fourth quarter of your life (sorry, boomers, but it’s not the ‘third act’), and though you may have carved out considerable more time after relinquishing child-rearing duties and full-time job constraints, there just isn’t enough time left to enjoy all your favorite media you’ve accumulated again and again.

I love music and I love movies – to the point where, over the years I’ve collected thousands of LPs or CDs, DVDs and now Blu-rays (I never collected VHS tapes because it was just a poor ass inconvenient medium). Media LibraryAt some point I began restricting the collection to about 500 CDs and 500 movies on DVD or Blu-ray. Shelf space was a consideration, so any time my collection exceeded the space, I had to weed out the less essential and trade them in. It was a good system that created an ever-evolving library that kept me re-defining exactly what was ‘essential.’ But now I know that, even at this level, the time I have to review all the television series or films or albums I love is limited to the point where I’ll never hear or see all of my library again. Not unless that was all I spent my time doing, which, of course, is not going to happen. I actually watch less television now than I did as a kid (maybe 3-4 hours a day versus 6 as a kid). And the only time I listen to music at the levels I want (loud) is probably in my car or through my ear buds at the gym.

There used to be a time where, when a new album by one of my favorite artists came out, I would wait for the perfect unencumbered 40-50 minutes to listen, position myself between my 80-pound ESS Speakers, lie back, and just fully devote myself to the listening experience. The only equivalency to that today is if I have a drive over 30 minutes alone in the car. Otherwise, it’s just songs here and there.

We like to accuse millennials or our children of shorter attention spans and less focus on reading an entire book or listening to an entire album. But if we are honest, we know it’s not them that have changed, but the culture they are dealing with, where there is just ten times as much media competing for our attention at all times. Media BombardmentThey don’t buy albums; they just buy a song on iTunes. So is it any wonder they don’t collect physical media like CDs or books? Because the nature of everything now is so micro-transitory and momentary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, and it keeps us more in the moment. But I can’t help but think that by trying to absorb everything that’s coming at us in smaller and smaller bits and pieces – songs, films, television, youTube, texts, gossip, twitter, news, etc. – we are actually absorbing NOTHING.

Wayne w Scripts sWhen I write a screenplay, I spend maybe hundreds of hours focusing on the structure, story and character to deliver as deeply rich an experience of the tale as possible. But no producer, agent or studio exec has two undivided hours or wants to read 120 pages, so they skim it or just read a two-page coverage. And, even if they love the story and buy the script, they provide notes based on a very superficial understanding of what went into the story. That’s why films are so bad today. The deal is everything. Nobody reads, or takes the time to grasp the full vision.

The pure experience of melding with the intention of the artist has been reduced from the time it takes to read a novel, or a screenplay, or listen to a full album, to about the length of one song or a YouTube video. With so many things competing for and dividing our attention, that’s about all we’ll give it.

Where this goes or ends up, I have no idea. But I enter the New Year a bit sad that I won’t have the time to fully re-experience all the great movies, albums and books that really combined to make me the artist and person I am, and with the full attention I once devoted to them. time enoughAnd that my son will never share all the same interests or devote his time to going through my library. But why should he? He has to create his own persona.

One of my resolutions this year is to put some filters on, use extreme discrimination, and realize that 90 percent of what’s being blasted at us through media is just useless distraction. And, beyond all the other more essential life experiences – family time, friends, work and travel – try to give the films, music or books I actually choose to re-visit the time and attention they deserve. Like old friends, they’ve given me so much.

– A. Wayne Carter