Screen Junkies » laff 2011 http://www.screenjunkies.com Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Thu, 14 Aug 2014 21:37:30 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.3.1 LAFF Review: The Future http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-the-future/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-the-future/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2011 23:54:17 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=218141 The film gets sexual, metaphysical, silly, philosophical, and stirs up a lot of feelings.

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Boy, this is going to be a tough one to describe. If you saw Miranda July’s Me And You And Everyone We Know, let alone her other art work, you can imagine her latest movie, The Future, stirs up a lot of feelings. I understand it completely, but it’s hard to describe how it affected me.

Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are adopting a cat, and it strikes them that this is the beginning of a life of responsibility. So in the 30 days they have before Paw Paw (voice of July) is ready to come home from the shelter, they embark on figuring out what lives they want to live. Jason takes a door-to-door job for an environmental group and Sophie tries to upload a dance video each day, and also cancels the home WiFi.

A lot of this journey is really just about Sophie and Jason talking about their ideas. These are conversations in July’s unique voice. These characters want to achieve something with their lives. It’s not hip irony like “oh, if only we could be meaningful,” just a sensitive intelligence. And it’s weird. July’s thoughts can be artsy and abstract.

It’s well meaning for Sophie to turn off the internet as a way to refocus her attention. She also hides under a blanket because she thinks Jason wants to have the apartment to himself. He doesn’t, and it would be thoughtful if it weren’t one sided. When debating whether to tell the truth or a lie, Sophie asserts, “I could never do either of those things” and it totally makes sense if you’ve ever felt like that too.

Sophie connects with Marshall (David Warshofsky), a sign maker who drew a portrait Jason bought at the animal shelter. She operates on pure instinct. She wants a banner, but she’ll decide what it should say later. The important thing to Sophie, and probably to July, is that she explores this opportunity to have her own banner!

July breaks narrative structure like an experimental film, but never violates the narrative like a French New Wave film might. Jason can stop time. At a particularly traumatic moment, he stops time long enough to discuss it with the moon, and the rules are surprisingly different from the usual sci-fi constructs. An entire family is born and dies in the course of a conversation with Sophie, and there’s nothing unusual about that. Paw Paw speaks to the audience from her cage at the shelter.

These aren’t really spoilers, because hearing about those ideas should only make you want to see them more. The film gets sexual, metaphysical, silly and philosophical. I agree with a lot of July’s worldview, and the beliefs I may disagree with are just as fascinating to experience through her prism.

 

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LAFF Review: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-dont-be-afraid-of-the-dark/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-dont-be-afraid-of-the-dark/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2011 04:58:35 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=217946 A solid creature feature in the vein of the’80s puppet movies

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a solid creature feature in the vein of the’80s puppet movies, even though it’s probably all CGI. The atmosphere and monsters have a Guillermo del Toro vibe, even though he only produced it and Troy Nixey directed it.

Little Sally Hirst (Bailey Madison) has to go live with her dad Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in the scary house they’re restoring. We know from the prologue that Emerson Blackwood (Garry McDonald) used to hide in the basement ripping out victims’ teeth to feed the creatures that whisper to him. So it’s going to be rough for Sally.

Don't Be Afraid Of This 'Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark' Trailer

The plot structure is basic and effective. Sally starts hearing the whispers and the creatures leave gifts for her, but then they start ripping Kim’s clothes and making trouble. Of course the grown-ups don’t believe her. Actually, it’s Alex who’s so obsessed with making the cover of Architecture Digest that he tries to micromanage Sally into behaving. Kim seems sympathetic, at least that Sally should get some sensitive attention, if not totally buying into the creatures.

Nixey does the creature tease well with glimpses, keeping the creatures hidden but present enough that they’re part of the movie. Alex sticks his ears so close he almost gets nicked, but that’s just a joke. Seeing the creatures in shadow from Sally’s foot level is cute and whimsical.

The creatures attack with deft skill though. You definitely get your money’s worth in several scenes of full on little armies stabbing and grabbing the groundskeeper and embarrassing Alex at his dinner party. Those are great sequences.

The only distracting aspect of the film is an apparent anti-psychiatry bent. Sally’s mom has her on Aderol and Alex’s psychiatrist friend wants to prescribe more for Sally. It may be effective to set a monster movie in the world of obtuse adults, but when you cast the wife of the most vocal spokesperson against prescription medication, it can’t help but feel like an agenda. And it was probably only meant to show that the grown-ups don’t get Sally, but that’s where my mind goes.

I like seeing a creature movie where the creatures interact with the world. Horror movies don’t scare me so I have to appreciate them on a different level. I don’t know if Dark will scare you but it’s entertaining and creative.

 

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LAFF Review: Natural Selection http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-natural-selection/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-natural-selection/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2011 20:27:00 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=217677 A beautiful performance by Rachael Harris in a terrific first film by writer/director Robbie Pickering.

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You’d think as much as I love South by Southwest, I would have seen the film that won the festival. No, I had to wait for it to come to the Los Angeles Film Festival, but I can see how it made such an impression in Austin.

Linda (Rachael Harris) wants to have morning sex with her husband Abe (John Diehl) but instead he prays they resist the temptation. They’re so devout that since she can’t conceive, Abe thinks it’s a sin to have sex just for fun. Turns out Abe’s been donating sperm to meet his needs, and he jerks himself into a stroke.

Desperate, Linda finds out whom Abe might have fathered and goes to meet him and bring him back. Raymond (Matt O’Leary) is the oddball mismatch that completes her perfect wacky road trip pair. He’s an escaped convict, a vulgar druggie and looks like he hasn’t showered in months.

The comedy is funny. Classic formulae work. The clash of disparate worlds leads Linda to trust Raymond naively and Raymond to get exasperated by Linda’s kindness. There’s some pratfalling when Raymond gets beaten up and stumbles around. Comedy continues when they bond. Raymond gets really excitable telling his lowlife stories and starts to defend Linda even when he’s trying to rip her off.

It’s a really beautiful performance by Harris. That’s a revelation to some people but I never doubted she had it in her. Why wouldn’t a successful comedian be an all around engaging thespian? She is adorable being naively kind and getting drunk with Raymond. When she opens up, it’s painful and real, not Oscar baiting.

Like all road movies, Linda and Raymond get stranded and more desperate as they try to get back to Abe. It’s better than Due Date, which would be the most recent Hollywood equivalent. I gave Due Date a positive review, so I guess I have to extend that courtesy to Natural Selection.

Natural Selection certainly has more dramatic resolution, if you’re into that. I like how it condemns the religious hypocrisy right away. Yeah, sex is only for making babies, but Abe’ll donate sperm as a loophole. You’ll probably figure out why it turns out Linda can’t conceive, but the point isn’t the surprise. It’s a personal revelation that would take a long time, a few days on the road or about 70 minutes of screen time to reveal.

Writer/director Robbie Pickering milked more comedy out of a standard situation than his Hollywood counterparts and found some human drama too. In the grand scheme of things, that’s basic, but for a first film this is amazing.

 

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LAFF Review: A Better Life http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-a-better-life/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-a-better-life/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2011 18:55:04 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=217443 A real thriller with intense stakes, against the backdrop of a relevant social issue.

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At first I was worried A Better Life would be an “important” movie educating all of us on the plight of immigrant families. It starts out that way but becomes a real thriller with intense stakes, against the backdrop of a relevant social issue.

Carlos works in landscaping to support his son Luis. He buys the company truck from his retiring boss so that he can own the business and build a really solid future, a better life for his son. The truck just leads to more problems.

‘A Better Life' Trailer Makes You Feel Better About Your Life

The setup paints a stark picture of this impossible situation. How can Carlos teach Luis values when he has to work all the time, and Luis has violent gang wannabes all around him at school? It’s clear the kids are just desperate for respect.

When Carlos’s situation turns bad, it’s really intense. One untrustworthy day laborer risks Carlos’s life and steals his truck. It’s even rougher because there’s no recourse. Carlos is illegal, he can’t go to the cops. Here, the film really puts us in the intensity of this life. It’s one thing to say it’s hard to be an immigrant, but to show how the most noble efforts can become an immense burden in an instant, that’s drama.

Carlos and Luis go looking for the thief, and here is where street-wise Luis can help. He overdoes it with the gang banger bravado but he has a little more savvy. He also sees the reality of how other immigrants live, who have it even worse than he does. It makes me appreciate the options I have. If someone steals my car, I just call Geico.

Carlos maintains good values throughout this hardship. He still honors his word. Even the people who wrong him are just trying to get ahead for their own families. Carlos just won’t do it at someone else’s expense. Luis asks the tough questions too. Why do poor people have so many kids, or any kids at all? Carlos has no answer for that.

This is drama. There are no solutions, only more problems. Even getting the truck back turns out to expose them to more trouble. It gets you into that headspace of always looking over your shoulder, because each day is borrowed time.

 

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LAFF Review: L!fe Happens http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-lfe-happens/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-lfe-happens/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2011 16:43:37 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=216802 Kat Coiro’s debut feature makes some of the same mistakes as other standard Hollywood movies, but it gets a lot more right.

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L!fe Happens is the movie I wanted Bridesmaids to be. It actually feels like it’s a woman’s voice, yet it’s easily relatable comedy. Kat Coiro’s debut feature makes some of the same mistakes as other standard Hollywood movies, but it gets a lot more right.

7 photosRachel Bilson

Kim (Krysten Ritter) and Deena (Kate Bosworth) are BFF roommates. One night when there’s only one condom left, Kim has unprotected sex and gets pregnant. The lesson, ladies, is: always keep an extra stash of condoms. Deena helps with the baby and tries to help Kim start dating again.

Coiro manages to make lip-syncing to Chamillionaire seem cool. I think the sheer omission of hairbrushes as microphones is the key. But Coiro has fun in the editing, with jump cuts and speed ramping to make genre tropes pay off a punchline. Deena’s library hookup is all in the timing.

For the sheer fact that you get to watch three pretty girls (Rachel Bilson is their other roommate, the virgin Laura) be charming, L!fe Happens is a tolerable date movie. Bosworth is awesome, adding “dude” and “man” to sentences like a feminist Spicoli. She can eat an apple judgmentally. They make her too the extreme on the emotionally stunted man hater front, but Bosworth makes a happy dance look cute.

7 photosKate Bosworth

There is some refreshing honesty about the realities of raising kids. Kim breast feeds simply because she doesn’t have money for formula. The dialogue is pretty snappy too, and has a light touch with the virgin jokes. Laura comes across as innocent, but noble. These women do a really good job of raising the baby, so those are positiv role models to put on screen.

At that point it’s shocking when the film pulls a Hollywood cliché. Dreamboat Nathan (Geoff Stults) makes a negative comment about kids, so Kim pretends the baby is Deena’s. Then Kim and Deena have to keep up the ruse. Why spoil this character-driven dramedy with a gimmick out of a Kate Hudson movie? At least the moment that gives Kim away is a Something About Mary worthy shocker.

The script by Coiro and Ritter gives the characters generic jobs, because all these movies have to have some end game. Deena is an author and Kim is a dog walker with big plans for her own dog mall. That establishes Deena’s rise and Kim’s stagnation, and gives Deena more opportunities to espouse theories on gender roles. For that reason it feels more functional than organic to the story.

L!fe Happens got the characters, the bonding and the tone right, so that’s a triumph. You could almost forgive the clichéd baby secret and the spelling out of themes via plot devices. We won’t, but I’m ready to see what Coiro and Ritter do next because I think they’ve got something to say and they’ll keep getting better. L!fe Happens is a pretty good start.

 

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LAFF Review: The Guard http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-the-guard/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-the-guard/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2011 20:14:50 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=215726 Basically, it’s 'Rush Hour' with an obnoxious WHITE cop, and a reasonable competent black agent has to deal with him.

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I can reassure myself not to be bummed that I missed The Guard at Sundance, because it actually wasn’t that great.

Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is an Irish cop who takes acid on the job, alludes to crack experiences, and whores around with escorts. He plays around on crime scenes and mouths off when respectable officers try to lead. FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) comes to Ireland to bust some drug traffickers, and he gets stuck with Boyle.

Basically, it’s Rush Hour with an obnoxious WHITE cop, and a reasonable competent black agent has to deal with him. Gleeson and Cheadle are both likeable enough actors, but I didn’t find many of their shenanigans amusing.

To be fair, I missed a lot with the dialect. At one point I thought Boyle accused someone of interfering with a llama, but there were no llamas in the case. Maybe on DVD with subtitles I’ll realize The Guard is a comic masterpiece.

Probably not though, because what I did understand wasn’t that funny. I know, I should find fondling the privates of a murder victim hilarious, but I’m just too highbrow. Boyle’s “innocent” racism is not ironically misguided. It’s just obvious. A foreign suspect tells her partner “there’s a black man at the door” in a subtitled twist on every Will Smith action movie joke. I suppose Boyle’s refusal to see Everett’s baby picture came out before “The Office” did it, but it’s still less funny in The Guard.

I don’t care about or fear the criminals they’re after. Towards the end there’s a nice standoff scene with banter between the hero and villain, and a fun cowboy climax complete with cowboy music. It’s still a mess.

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LAFF Review: Higher Ground http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-higher-ground/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-higher-ground/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2011 21:42:00 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=215615 It is more often uncomfortable but sometimes profound and inspiring.

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Vera Farmiga directed and stars in a movie that really examines faith, specifically Christianity-based faith. It is more often uncomfortable but sometimes profound and inspiring, which seems about the realistic proportion of thinking about religion.

Corinne (Farmiga) first hears about the call to Jesus as a child in a church. As she grows up, she marrie high school sweetheart Ethan (Joshua Leonard) after pregnancy and they spend their family life in a Church community. Bill (Norbert Leo Butz) seems to rule over the community as he insists on making families’ personal business a matter of the church.

You know something’s up when young Corinne has visions of her pastor (Bill Irwin) and mother (Donna Murphy) practicing swimming naked on the pews. When she decides to be baptized as an adult it seems welcoming at first, but always overbearing. Soon you see how the women in the congregation kindly discourage Corinne from speaking up or even dressing nicely in public. They suppress independent thought with kindness.

Bill lectures the men on pleasing their wives, so at least they acknowledge sex. Playing religious audio sex guides is not the way to do it, but Bill wants his families to protect themselves from adulterous temptations.

What’s most uncomfortable is that every single aspect of their life is about God. That’s no kind of balance. Even a children’s soccer game becomes theological. Come on, God wants you to have a diverse life experience. Ethan and Corinne are correct in kicking out her druggie sister Wendy (Nina Arianda) but that’s got nothing to do with God. It’s just morally right to remove an unhealthy influence from a house with children, or even adults really. You can kick her out just because you don’t want cocaine in the house.

The emotion is really raw and frank. Confronting any of these issues is intense, and the film goes there. Corinne can’t ever escape. Everywhere she goes is full of religious talk. Obviously we bring our own baggage to interpret these events. I see it as a stifling of broader scope issues. Maybe Farmiga intended to play Corinne as a deserter who abandons the religious convictions she herself holds.

As a director, Farmiga is skillful and confident. Her camera usually tracks steadily, showing she knows how to present drama without showing off. It’s the type of movie where you have to be prepared and open to exploring tough concepts and feelings. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with a classy production to discuss amongst yourselves.

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LAFF Review: The Devil’s Double http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-the-devils-double/ http://www.screenjunkies.com/movies/movie-review/laff-review-the-devils-double/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2011 17:23:43 +0000 Fred Topel http://www.screenjunkies.com/?p=215513 An interesting twist on the crime saga/warlord genre, told through the perspective of an outsider forced to be inside.

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The Devil’s Double is one of the movies I missed at Sundance because I just couldn’t work it into my schedule. I’m glad it’s coming to the Los Angeles Film Festival, and I got a chance to screen it in advance for a preview of one of LAFF’s gala screenings.

Uday Hussein (Dominic Cooper), Saddam’s son, forces Latif (also Cooper) to be his double. Latif has to sit by while Uday relishes the violence and hedonism with which he can get away, and then pose as Uday for the more dangerous public appearances.

This is an interesting twist on the crime saga/warlord genre, told through the perspective of an outsider forced to be inside. Latif has no power to stop or even influence Uday. He’s as powerless as the subjects of Iraq.

It’s an awful world, but maybe it’s a little bit better to be inside than on the street. The film strikes a morally acceptable balance between the luxury of being a dictator’s son and the reprehensible lifestyle of those who indulge in it. It’s a pretty unstable world where you never know if you’re partying or ducking for cover.

‘Devil’s Double’ Trailer Contains Twice The Kickassitude

Of course Uday gets it from his father. Director Lee Tamahori handles Uday’s most horrible acts tastefully, but still goes there. There’s a schoolgirl and a bride so you might want to cover your eyes. Uday goes all Joe Pesci on anyone who mouths off to him.

There are a few little action scenes in there. They’re intense beats in the story, believable in the world of a volatile country but also as thrilling as Tamahori’s Bond or XXX action sequences.

The doubling of Cooper is a Winklevoss Twins-worthy effect. Some scenes where they’re both in the frame, I kept wondering, “Is that just a lookalike stand in?” because it was so seamless. Whenever it’s shot/reverse shot, over the shoulder, etc. it’s seamless. And whenever the camera is on Cooper, you know exactly which one he’s playing, always.

The Devil’s Double is a solid thriller that works on its own. The true story aspect only adds a bit of context, since most of us will remember the news coverage of Desert Storm. It’s a tough film, but since that’s the deal, it’s good that it never wusses out.

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