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Greenberg (2010)

Dear Starbucks, in your attempt to manufacture culture out of fast food coffee you’ve been surprisingly successful for the most part. The part that isn’t covered by ‘the most part’ sucks.

— Roger Greenberg

I have a bone to pick with the Steve and Brian from The Film Cynics. They recently reviewed Noah Baumbach’s latest film, Greenberg. They eviscerated this film saying that it was dull, stupid and a waste of time. I’m paraphrasing here. You could hear their verbal tongue lashing here. Personally, I am not familiar with the works of Baumbach. Going into this movie, I heard nothing but great things about it. I think they don’t like to see flawed characters on screen.

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He is a forty-year-old man that was recently discharged from the loony bin, because he had a nervous breakdown. He is extremely OCD, doesn’t want to drive and constantly applies chapstick. He house-sits for his brother, Phillip (Chris Messina) and his family take a six week vacation to Vietnam.

Roger becomes acquainted with Phillip’s assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), who comes by the house to check up on the family dog or see if Roger needs anything from the grocery store. Feeling bored in the house, Roger writes letters to companies about mundane everyday annoyance. That doesn’t seem to be enough for him that doesn’t seem to be enough for him. He reconnects with his old friend, Ivan (Rhys Ifans) who used to be in a band with him along with another friend, Eric (Mark Duplass).

Roger tries to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who doesn’t really give him the time of day. Roger’s fragile mental state makes him prone to inappropriate outbursts at the smallest things like listening to a CD, blowing out your birthday candles or expressing any kind of affection to another person. Roger tries to start something up with Florence who doesn’t want to sleep with every guy that she comes in contact with.

From what I heard, Baumbach is known for creating unlikable character. Yes, Roger comes off as a pompous asshole. Nobody should be around this guy. He is a broken man that is filled with regret about the mistakes that he has done with his life. He filled with contempt with throwing his life away, trying to relive his youth that is gone. This guy is lost to himself and lost of the world. Nobody knows how to deal with him.

Personally, the people in this film are not categorized into type “A” or type B” personalities. People like this exist in real life. We don’t necessarily hang out with them, but they are out there. I could identify myself with Roger’s plight, a person plagued with missed opportunities and running out of second chances. Upset with how his life turned and lashing out towards the people that he has come in contact. I get that.

Judgment: It’s not a pleasant watch. It’s brutally honest. It doesn’t have to be in your face. It could deliberate and subtle in its pace and mood.

Rating: ****

Away We Go (2009)

Sam Mendes has made some exceptional films in his ten-year career. I thought that after the release of Revolutionary Road, he would wait three years to have another film come out. He surprised me when he deviated from the heavy dramas to do the comedy, Away We Go. I was looking forward to this movie last summer, but I was heavy into my Classic Movie Month that I missed this movie. I’m glad I did, but it not up to par with some of his other films.

A young unmarried couple in their early thirties, Burt and Verona (John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph) are living in a dilapidated mobile home near Burt’s parents, Gloria and Jerry Farlander (Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels) when they realized that they are expecting their first baby. They are living nearby so that their child could be near their grandparents. The problem is that parents drop an atomic bomb on them by saying that they are living the country to go to Belgium for two years.

Burt and Verona decide to go on a cross-country trip to fins a suitable place to raise child. Their first stop is Phoenix where the two meet’s Verona’s former co-worker, Lily (Alison Janney) at a local dog track, who tries to be hip with her out dated lingo and brash comments about her deflated boobs and her “dykey” daughter. They an awkward conversation with Lily’s husband, Lowell (Jim Gaffigan) about some random subject that you don’t give two shits about.

On to the next city, the couple visit Verona’s younger sister in Tucson, Grace (Carmen Ejogo) where Verona confides to her that she is scared about commitment and raising their child because their parents died a decade earlier and that Verona doesn’t want to talk about it.

After the brief visit, they have to take a train to see Burt’s hippie “cousin” Ln Fisher-Herrin (Maggie Gylleenhaal) in Madison. She is a free spirit that shares a communal bed with her husband, Roderick (Josh Hamilton) and their two kids, Wolfie and Neptune (Bailey Harkins, Brendan and Jaden Spitz). Over dinner, they clash about their differing philosophies about parenting styles. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Final stop on their weird jounrye is to Montreal where they meet Verona’s old college roommates, Tom and Munch Garrett (Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey) who are Brangelina-like without the fame and fortune. They have mini-United nations that are mourning the loss of another baby by miscarriage. (Damn, that was depressing to write.) They think that want to move to Montreal, but they might have second thoughts when a family emergency happens.

The movie is uncomfortable to watch. It’s brutal good, it’s brutal weird. There is some semblance of brilliance, particularly with Rudolph’s character as she is tortured by trying to reconcile with her parent while not having control of her family’s future.

I didn’t like Krasinski’s character of Burt. He is a big clueless doofus that you wonder how he could be fully functioning person that doesn’t know the difference between cobbling and carving to be a good father to the baby. Next, most of the people that they meet on their journey are unmemorable. They are just weird, fucked up people that should examined by a professional.

I think that Mendes tried too hard to make this movie look indie. He had the tropes of a typical indie with the character staring blankly at the camera where the rest of the world passing by them, the awkward exchanges in a car, the dramatic monologue at the ends where a character has an epiphany and has to pontificate about it or have overtly-eccentric characters that are caricatures.

I didn’t hate the movie. I’m glad I watched it but it need to trim the fat a bit. Flesh out some of the characters.

Judgment: I don’t if I can recommended this movie. Maybe for Sam Mendes’ fans. I guess.

Rating: ***

Julie and Julia (2009)

I’m Julia Child. Bon appetit!

— Julia Child

I had no inclination of watching Julie & Julia, because I thought that it would be just another chick flick. Now, that Meryl Streep is getting lots of awards attention for her portyal of Julie Child, I had to watch the film to see it. I also heard when you watch the film, it would make you hungry. I had a meal before I watched this. I envied the characters having the chance to try those wonderful dishes.

Based on the novel of the name by Julie Powell and “My Life in France” by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, writer/director Nora Ephron interweaves of two women seeming to live parallel lives at two different times.

Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is struggling novelist that is working for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation answering insurance calls after 9/11. She feels like she hasn’t finished anything in her life. Her friends are becoming more successful than she is, and it makes her feel left out in the cold. After a scathing article about her turning thirty is pressed, she wanted to accomplish something in her life. By suggestion of her husband, Eric (Chris Messina), Julie starts a blog, “The Julie/Julia Project” to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a year.

Flashing back to when Julia Child (Streep) arrives in 1949 France where her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) was transferred to the local embassy. While Paul is at work, Julie tries to find something to do. She has the idea to have a French cookbook in English, which didn’t exist at the time. To do that she had to enlist in cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, but the headmistress, Madame Brassart (Joan Juliet Buck) tries to discourage her for advancing in the school. Her infectious energy makes her the star of the class.

As the movie goes on story highlight coincides in their lives, Powell has doubts that anyone is reading her blog when she receives ingredients from her fans. She is becoming more popular that people want to interview her. Child has an opportunity to author a cookbook with acquaintances, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle (Linda Emond, Helen Carey).

I heard about the liberties that Ephron with Powell who was having severe martial problems that lead towards her divorce. I enjoyed myself with the movie. Streep was good as Julia Child. Her portion of the movie was better than Powell’s. The sequence with Julia’s sister Dorothy McWilliams (Jane Lynch) visiting them did not have any bearing on the movie to me. I thought the ending dragged on too much that it got syrupy for my tastes.

I was struck about the blog. I want to read it. Does Julie have another one in the works?

Judgment: This movie is a slice of life. Make sure that you have eaten before watching it.

Rating: ****

Towelhead (2008)

How Can You Find Yourself if No One Can See You?

I mentioned this movie, Towelhead on my worst movies of 2008 list a while ago. I didn’t want to write a review, because why waste my time with this movie. I heard that a podcast that I listen to on a regular basis, /Filmcast was reviewing the DVD on their show with Stephen Tobolowsky. Stephen is so cool that I would give this movie another shot for him.

I still hate it, even more now. I would be revealing spoilers out the yin-yang about this pile of a movie.

If you have any desire to watch this movie, don’t. If you do, do not read any further. You have been warned.

Towelhead tells the story of a 13-year-old Lebanese girl named Jasira Maroun (Summer Bishil) who in the opening scene of this movie is in the bathroom with her mom’s boyfriend, Barry (Chris Messina) shaving her pubes. What the fuck? There is a whole deal with her pubes that I will delve into later.

Her mom, Gail Monahan (Maria Bello) discovers them. She blames Jasira for her boyfriend doing that to her. She promply sends Jasirs to her uptight, conservative Lebanese-Christian father, Rifat’s (Peter Macdissi) house in Houston.

He treats her like a servant. When she arrives at the table with no bra on under her shirt. He slaps her across the face.

The next door neighbors Travis and Evelyn Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart, Carrie Preston) come by with their son, Zack (Chase Ellison). They try to be nice to Jasira welcoming her and they offend the father about the Persian Gulf War.

Jasira becomes Zack’s babysitter. He calls her “towelhead”, “camel jockey”, and “sand nigger.” Why? Are all Texans that ignorant? She catches Zack in his father’s weight room looking at a porno magazine. Jasira has daydreams about the busty women in various montages. Why are they there? Travis catches them reading the mags. He is taken with Jasira.

She rhythmically moves her legs until she has an orgasm when she is by herself at home or school.

Anyway, writer/director, Alan Ball shows Jasira riding the crimson wave all over the place. Rifat doesn’t want to buy tampons for her. The maxi pads he buys doesn’t hold her heavy flow. A Hispanic woman talking to her in Spanish in the school toilet while handing her a tampon. What? Everybody brown-skinned person should know Spanish all of sudden. They show her bloody tampon in the toilet at the father’s house. He discovers it. Calls her a slut.

Then, everybody post-pubescent boy wants to have a piece of Jasira. I guess, when she is bleeding, the boys go in heat. Everybody wants her milkshake. Travis Vuoso comes back and fingers her up and sees his bloody fingertips and leaves.

There is a sequence with the grandmother in Beirut. Why is she writing to Jasira in French? Jasira doesn’t know French. If they speak French in Lebanon, then I stand corrected. She had to have a classmate translate the letter to her class. After class, people are calling her “diaperhead” and “sand nigger”. Give me a break.

The boy that called her a sand nigger, Thomas (Eugene Jones III) says to her that people shouldn’t say that to her. You just did it, you dipshit. Later, he wants to shave her crotch, feel her up, jerk off in front of her and then “take her virginity.” Oh, spare me, One Minute Man.

The father gives Jasira a taste of beer. Travis comes back to apologize. He takes Jasira out of dinner in a Mexican restaurant has gotten Jasira drunk off of his margarita. Then, later has Jasira take her clothes off and have sex with him while her dad is away with his girlfriend.

The only saving grace in this film is Toni Collete and Matt Letscher as the other neighbors, Gil and Melina Hines. Their house was a safe haven for Jasira when her father physically abuses her.

I had enough of the film and I turned it off.

I was personally offended as a fellow Houstonian where this film takes place. We do not have the stupid accent that everyone is speaking. We are not stupid hillbillies that called people, “towelheads”, “diaperheads” or “sand niggers” in rapid secession.

Why would anybody love this movie? What is it about the subject matter that appealed to Alan Ball?

These characters are awful human beings. Why was this movie made? I’m sorry. Not everything that Alan Ball touches turns to gold. This was a large lump of coal.

My judgment: If you want to have a story about child molestation, bodily fluids and dysfunctional families, I would suggest reading Running With Scissors. Don’t watch that godawful movie it was based on.

My rating: *

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Here is another movie that have been nominated for 4 Golden Globes recently. Best Actor for Javier Bardem, Best Actress for Rebecca Hall, Best Supporting Actress for Penélope Cruz and Best Picture – Comedy.

This is a movie that I actually liked. It was showing at one movie theater here in Houston. I saw the movie yesterday.

This movies is the latest Woody Allen movie in European tour after he abandoned his beloved New York City behind a couple of years ago. After I was disappointed with his latest efforts, I was surprised that I loved this film. I heard that Allen was offered some money from the Spanish government to film a movie there. Here Vicky Cristina Barcelona is born.

The movie is about a pair of friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) visiting Barcelona for a couple of months. Vicky is a timid college student that is studying the Catalan culture of Spain. She is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina) that is working in New York. Cristina is free-spirited woman that does not want to led a boring life. She is trying to find herself and passion for something more in life.

They stay in the house of Vicky’s distant relative, Judy Nash (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband, Mark(Kevin Dunn).

One night when they are out at an art gallery, they meet a broodingly handsome painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Cristina is immediately attracted to him. Out to dinner, they run into Juan Antonio, who blatantly propositions them to a threesome at his house in Oviedo. Vicky brutally rebuffs him, but Cristina is gung-ho about bedding down a total stranger.

Eventually, romantic entanglements occur between Vicky and Juan Antonio, Cristina and Juan Antonio and also between Cristina, Juan Antonio and his spitfire ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz).

Everybody was salivating with the kiss between Cristina and Maria Elena. It was very sweet. Nothing sexual.

During the course of the film, the personalities between Cristina and Vicky switch. Cristina wants to be in a monogamous relationship with Juan Antonio, but Maria Elena is a complication in the matter. Vicky takes a chance at being reckless with her relationship toward Juan Antonio and her engagement to Doug.

I liked this movie better than “Scoop” or “Cassandra’s Dream.” It was on par with “Match Point.” The scenery was wonderful. It reminded me of the time when I visited Spain over a decade ago. Fond memories.

I will say that I have a problem with the narration by Christopher Evan Welch. It does not need to be in this movie. I think it was very lazy in that respect. Why can’t we have silence? Contemplation? I wanted to have that period to reflect the action of action. I don’t need everything being spelled out to me.

Lastly, I think that Woody Allen did a disservice for the Spanish characters in this movie. The male as the stereotypical Latin lover/Lothario character and the female as the spitfire. Really, Woody? We have seen these archetypes again and again.

My rating: ***1/2 stars.

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