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Youth In Revolt (2010)

I’m not going anywhere until you sink your filthy dick in this tomato.

— Nick Twisp and François Dillinger

Everyone knows that I have my hang-ups with Michael Cera and his shtick of not stretching his acting muscles in any direction. He is basically playing himself in every movie that he is in, but his latest film Youth in Revolt could finally be something different for him to do. This movie has been getting rave reviews from the critics and the audiences think that it is a piece of shit. My assessment is that I side more with the audiences.

Based on the series of books by C.D. Payne, Michael Cera plays another dorky sixteen-year-old — what a surprise — named Nick Twisp who believes that he is born in the wrong time. He adores with work of Kurosawa and enjoys the music of Frank Sinatra. You know where this is going. He is a virgin — double surprise — that want to lose his virginity as soon as possible.

He is living with his trailer trash mother, Estelle (Jean Smart) and the latest victim in her vagina turnstile is Jerry (Zach Galifianakis), who gets local sailors pissed off about a jalopy that he had sold to them. The family unit decides to go on vacation to Yokia (sp?) to the house of a friend of Jerry’s. Turns out that the vacation house is actually a grimy double wide trailer.

One day, Nick meets a beautiful nubile girl named Shenni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) who shares the same taste in music and movies. It’s kismet, but she has a “boyfriend” named Trent (Jonathan Bradford Wright). I put that in quotations marks because it’s not clear that is actually with him or Trent’s a big homo.

Nick falls hard for Sheeni and wants her to be “the one.” She teases him by flirting, kissing and making out with him, but she withholds herself because of her strict Christian upbringing with her inexplicably elderly parents (M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Kay Place). She drops the hint that she likes bad boy and that her husband would be named “François.”

Nick decides to create an alter-ego named François Dillinger that is like Nick, but has blue eyes, a horrible teenage mustache and dresses like a bad guy from Miami Vice. The alter-ego was so ridiculous. Nick as François begins to terrorize his hometown of Berkeley to get into the pants of Sheeni.

Was this film supposed to be a comedy? I did not laugh once at this movie. A slight chuckle peppered here and there. Michael Cera is in his twenties, stop playing loser teenagers. It’s getting old. Take a role as a fucking serial killer. Something! I was so bored with this movie that I wanted to be a pyromaniac. Burn the fucking screen down!

Judgment: Don’t bother with this movie.

Rating: *1/2

The Messenger (2009)

The Messenger has been a lot of awards contention for Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton lately. I first heard about this film from Michael Vox at the Cinebanter podcast a couple of months back. I saw the trailer for the movie and I was unimpressed with it. It seemed like another Iraqi war movie. There have been dozens of them that have not be successful. I gave this movie a chance and it paid off. It’s a good movie with some great performances to boot.

In his first leading role, Ben Foster plays Army  Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, an injured Iraqi war vet that returns stateside. He was hit with an IED that damaged his left eye and leg. With three months left on his enlistment, he is called to the office of Colonel Stuart Dorsett (Eamonn Walker) that assigns Will to the Casualty Notification Team.  A part of the military that notifies the next of kin about the death of a soldier on the battlefield. Will doesn’t want to do the job and he is frustrated about it.

Will is assigned to tag along with Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) who will show him the ropes on what to do, and what not to do deliver the bad news to the next kin. Stone schools him about reading a guidebook; memorize a script by filling in the blanks with the correct family’s name, address, how the soldier died, etc. They have to be the first notify the next of kin within 24 hours of positive ID. Will has to wear a beeper on his person 24/7 so they could ahead of the vultures; press, soldiers with cellphones and webcams. Lots of what not to do like say “passed away”, “expired” or any physical contact with the people they contact.

There is a methodology to it. They have to park a block away and  walk to the residence. If the next of kin is not home, they have to leave and come back later. Will’s first CN assignment didn’t follow correct protocol when they encountered the pregnant girlfriend of a fallen solider, Monica Washington (Yaya DaCosta). The regulations go out the windows when the mother is out of the house. They wait in the living room. They listen to story about them getting married and her father lost his job. Until, Mrs. Burrell (Portia) comes in. From the family’s reaction, you know that this movie is not going be happy-go-lucky. It’s raw. It’s real.

Stone and Montgomery say the words like an automaton. Slowly after every notification, telling these people that their children have been killed eats away at their souls. They cannot sleep. They slowly break down from the inside out.

On another notification, the normal of having the next of kin yell, scream, cry, slap or spit at them is thrown of the window. When they notify Olivia Pittersen (Samantha Morton) about her husband’s death, she is calm. Olivia knows that they were going to deliver bad news. She keeps her composure throughout their canned notification speech.  She unintentionally breaks the rules by shaking their hands. They are taken aback.

After they rare encounter, Will watches Olivia’s family from afar in stalkerish kind of way until she has a blow up in a local mall when recruiters try to enlist a couple of teenagers. Will defuses the situation. She tries to push him away, but he keeps coming back. He has an odd fascination to protect this struggling family, because he doesn’t have one of his own. He becomes the surrogate dad. The more that Will delivers the bad news to so many military families, he starts to rebel about being the stoic soldier that doesn’t feel sympathy for the next of kin and what they are going through. That doesn’t sit well with Captain Stone.

As I said earlier, I thought the performances the three main characters were very good. The story as a whole was typical. I didn’t get way Will has a strong connection with Olivia. I didn’t understand. Why her? Why this woman? There is also something about the relationship between Will and his ex-girlfriend, Kelly (Jena Malone) that I didn’t get. He was keen to push her away, but she is about to move on with her life, he comes back. Why?

Judgment: The trio of strong acting performances elevate this movie into a must-see.

Rating: ****

Fargo (1996)

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I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.

— Marge Gunderson

Fargo is considered the greatest film that the Coen Brothers have ever made. I was ashamed that I have never seen this #124 movie of All Time on IMDb. All I knew about this movie is a pregnant sheriff, a car salesman and the wood chipper. This movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It won Best Actress for Frances McDormand and the brothers for Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is apparently based on true events that happened in Minnesota in 1987. The names have been changed to protect the real life families from the prying eyes of the public.

A frazzled car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires a pair of thugs, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) with a new car and forty thousand dollars to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), because he has outstanding debt to pay off. That was his Plan B.

In a last ditch effort to avoid that is to convince his father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell) to purchase some land for a parking lot to get a huge finder’s fee for his efforts.

Things start to get out of the control when Carl and Gaear follow through with the kidnapping that leads to a triple homicide on highway.

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is the pregnant Brainerd police chief that investigates the highway murders. She expertly retraces what happens and bring whoever is responsible to justice.

This movie reminded me very much of No Country for Old Men, dealing with a small town living with a silent killer trying to get money back. I know that this movie was made-up and the latter was based on Cormac Macarthy’s book.

I enjoyed the monochromatic imagery of the snow blanketing the entire landscape. The story has you spinning in circles about what will happen next. It could dramatic, comedic, heartfelt and borderline creepy at times. That’s not to say that this is a masterpiece.

The accents on some of the actors slipped in and out. More of the Minnesotans with the “ya” and “you knows” were getting on my nerves. After watching that movie, I don’t understand why Frances won the Oscar. She was okay. She wasn’t spectacular in the movie to deserve the accolade. I also had problems with some plot holes. I will discuss those in the spoiler section.

Judgment: Not the Coens best movie, but it does have good things going for it.

Rating: ****

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The Big Lebowski (1998)

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Goddamn you Walter! You fuckin’ asshole! Everything’s a fuckin’ travesty with you, man! And what was all that shit about Vietnam? What the FUCK, has anything got to do with Vietnam? What the fuck are you talking about?

— The Dude

The #158 Movie of All Time on IMDb: The Big Lebowski has been a divisive film since its release in 1998. Some people have since it and dismissed as garbage, upon a second viewing they loved it. This is the first time that I have seen it. I am tittering between it being pure genius and pretentious bullshit.

The unemployed bum simply known as “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges) becomes the anti-hero of this story. Being mistaken for a millionaire that share his real name Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston), a pair of thugs rough him up. During the encounter, one of the thugs pees on his “prized” rug.

The Dude seeks out the other Lebowski to get him to pay for the rug. This action leads to chain of events that spiral out of control. Lebowski and his manservant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) want to get Lebowski’s young wife, Bunny (Tara Reid) back who has been kidnapped.

The Dude is mixed up with a trio of nihilists (Peter Stormare, Flea, Torsten Voges), a pornographer, Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), Lebowski’s feminist daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore) who all want something from him. There is also his bowling buddies, Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) that want to occupy his time.

This movie is a mind fuck. You wonder when the ending credits start; did the Coens take LSD when they conceived of the movie? In the beginning, the characters carried on some inane conversations that go around in circles. It infuriated me. “We get it! Move on.”

The sequences go from dark to slapstick to tripped out. I had no idea what I was watching. I tried to make some sense out of it. I concluded with this.

At the core of this movie, you have to understand that every character is living in their own universe. They are self-absorbed, needy, and selfish. The only way the monotonous conversations make any sense is that nobody is listening to each other. Perhaps for a split second before they launch into their polemics about urine soaked rugs, mistaken identity and bowling etiquette.

My mind needs time to digest what I seen.

Judgment: This movie should be watched more than once to understand it fully.

Rating: ***1/2 (with wiggle room)

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