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February 18, 2014

Simply Indie: Wild Girl Waltz


Wild Girl Waltz – Simpler

There is an alarming trend in films recently; the lack of comedies with characters hanging out and getting into trouble.  From “Smokey and the Bandit” to “Road Trip” the concept of driving around and getting into mischief has been an American film motif for decades and has always been one of my favorite comedy sub-genres.  The great thing about “road comedies” is that it also offers a young director or writer the chance to showcase interesting characters and integrate witty dialogue into a film that can be filmed on a modest budget.  I mean, most of our best ideas and conversations happen in a car as well.  With “Wild Girl Waltz” a full length indie film from writer-director Mark Lewis, Lewis is able to emulate a beloved genre with funny and thoughtful performances that anyone can relate to.

“Waltz” is a simple tale about friends and drugs.  When Angie and Tara take some “goofy pills” to escape for the day, it’s up to Brian, Tara’s boyfriend, to babysit the two while they both come off of their high.  Along the way Angie, Brian, and Tara find a turtle, roll down some hills, remember the good old days, and genuinely enjoy each others company.  It’s a simple story that we can all relate at one time of another during our youth.

A few things stood out to me in “Waltz.”  The character of Angie played by Christina Shipp, is a highlight of the film.  She has great screen presence, nails all of her dialogue, and has great comedic timing.  Her chemistry with Tara, played by Samantha Steinmetz, is also a lot of fun.  You genuinely feel like they have known each other for years, and they play off of each other well.  Brian, played by Jared Stern, is forced to played the straight man most of the film, but he’s still able to come up with a few comic gems.

While “Waltz” is played mainly for laughs, there are still undercurrents of drama here and there, mainly with the part of Brian.  During the course of the film we discover that Brian can be a bit of a pushover, with both his friends and his girlfriend Tara.  While he tries to play the tough guy a few times, he ends up backing down.  During the course of the day we see layers of Brian unravel as he goes from bitter to accepting, to loving come the end of the film.  If Angie is the heart, Brian is the soul of “Waltz.”

The one gripe I might have with “Waltz” are the long montage shots of Angie, Brian, and Tara.  I know it fits well within the film, but they slow down the pace where you want more dialogue or hijinks from the girls.  I wanted to see what they were going to do next and not have to sit through a scene with music playing and the characters walking through a forest.  For me it added nothing to the film but extra minutes to the run time, which still clocks in at a tidy 85 minutes.

Overall, “Wild Girl Waltz” is a lot of fun, with spirited performances from the three leads who all have their moments to shine during the film.  It’s a simple idea that you can take for what it is, a fun road film, or you can look at it from a deeper perspective that deals with relationships, growing up, or dealing a mundane existence in a small town.

If you want more information on “Wild Girl Waltz,” check out their site HERE.  I’d like to thank Mark Lewis for reaching out to Simplistic Reviews and giving us a chance to review his film as well.

February 6, 2014

Matt Simply Loves Anna Kendrick: Pitch Perfect


Pitch Perfect – Guilty

I’m really going to put myself out there with who I love this month. I could be cliche and pick an actor the likes of Mike Ruffalo (who I still might) or perhaps even Joaquin Phoenix, but I’m singing the praises, fittingly enough, of one special lady who by all accounts would be Jennifer Lawrence if Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t Jennifer Lawrence, if that makes sense.

I’m sucker for short girls with attitudes, and its the reason why I married one.  I guess I like a challenge and someone who can keep up with my smartassness.  That’s why I love Anna Kendrick.  She’s the perfect combination of spunky, deadpan, and cute.  She’s a proven indie darling and has the chops to hang with some of the biggest actors in Hollywood.

One thing I do find surprising about Kendrick, and I’ve mentioned this before in my “50/50” review, are all the negative comments she gets from critics, mainly over the things that she says.  Yes, she has a little bit of a potty mouth, but that’s what makes her even more charming and real.  So many young actresses want to act prim and proper and act like they need to impress everyone in order to get jobs and gain fans.  My belief is that being yourself is the only way to endear yourself to a much larger audience.  Just take a look at her Newcastle ad, it’s pure Anna, and it perfectly sums her up.

For the most part, you won’t find me watching many films that have a lot of musical numbers, or feature music as a main plot point.  What you might find me watching, however, are films that are either directed by Christopher Guest, which is ironic because I love “This is Spinal Tap” and “A Mighty Wind.  Again, ironic, but there are exceptions to rules all the time, and 2013 found me watching “Pitch Perfect” starring the wonderful Anna Kendrick, over and over again.  Yes, it’s my biggest guilty pleasure of this past year.

“Perfect” is in fact pretty perfect, if you’re looking for unexpectedly funny performances, catchy-as-f*ck songs, and of course, Anna Kendrick.  Now, there are some cliches of course.  Anna plays the typical outsider role, full of angst and a tongue as sharp as her wit.  You have the Type-A leader, played by Anna Camp, who is also extremely extremely charming, and of course the fat girl comic relief, played by Rebel Wilson.  Yes, you’ve seen glimpses of this film if you’ve ever seen a “Bring It On” or “Step Up” film, but what sets “Perfect” apart is it’s dry wit and it’s actors who you might not think can bring the funny, and pleasantly surprise you.

As previously mention, “Perfect” follows Beca (Kendrick) a college freshmen who is more interested in moving to L.A. and paying her dues than her Intro to Philosophy class.  After an ultimatum by her father to move her out to California if she joins an extra-curricular activity, Beca decides that “organized nerd singing” is the way to go, as she joins the Barden Bellas, an all-female A Capella group.  Of course hijinks ensue, tension is created, and finally we have redemption come the very end where the Bellas win.  It’s typical of the “go to college and have an adventure” genre, but there is enough humor and heart to set it apart from the rest of a tired genre.

While “Up In the Air” garnered her her most critical acclaim, and “Twilight” gave her her largest film roll out, “Perfect” is Kendrick’s star-making performance.  It allows her to act, bring the comedy, and of course, sing.  Now again, I’m not the biggest fan of singing and musical, but for some reason, I find myself singing just about every time I watch this film.

Despite the fact that Kendrick is playing another teen cliche, as I mentioned earlier, she is still able to create a character that feels new and interesting.  The “mysterious alternative girl who secretly loves things” has been done since “The Breakfast Club” but Kendrick brings her wit, and spunky personality to the role that’s the harbinger for the entire film.  She’s the heart, soul, and engine that guides the story.  Beca is that girl you saw in school that you always wanted to say something to, but you noticed the giant “F*ck Off” on her forehead.  “Perfect” shows you one thing;  girls have a soft spot for 1980s films, and if you have an even half-way decent singing voice and red hair, you got a shot at that girl.

All in all, “Pitch Perfect” is one of those films that you might feel guilty for liking, until you see how many people actually love it.  So much so, “Pitch Perfect 2” is being fast-tracked, with the ever amazing Elizabeth Banks behind the camera, and Kendrick likely returning in the starring role once again.  So you’ll have to aca-scuse me, I have some singing to do.

Fun Fact:  Sorry Kristen Stewart fans, but Kendrick is the only actor from the “Twilight” series that has been nominated for an Academy Award in 2010’s, “Up In the Air.” 

January 22, 2014

Simply Anime: Space Brothers


As a life long fan of Japanese animation or as it is more commonly called, anime, I have watched many types of films and shows that have ranged from the absurd like Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, to Hitchcock inspired thrillers like Perfect Blue, that would go on to inspire Hollywood directors like Darren Aronofsky in films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. So for my first official review here with Simplistic Reviews, I decided to give you my critique of a currently on-going series that even those new to anime will enjoy, Space Brothers.

Created by Chuya Koyama in 2008 originally as a manga (which is essentially a comic. In Japan, people regardless of age read manga and they have various categories just like books in your local library {people still go to those right?}) is published in the magazine Weekly Morning. The manga was nominated twice for a Manga Taisho award in 2008 and 2010, and would win the Shogakukan Manga Award for best general anime and in 2011 the Kodansha Manga Award in the same category. I don’t need to tell you how big that is, I mean these are like the Eisner’s of Japan, (ok you don’t know what the Eisner’s are, sorry didn’t mean to alienate you any more than I already have. The Eisner Awards are given for excellence in cook books, kinda like a Golden Globe or Oscars. Yes, I could’ve just use that analogy to begin with but I’m talking a completely different medium here folks!) So to put this in perspective, Space Brothers in prose shared award winning company with titles such as Bleach, Inuyasha, Golgo 13, Galaxy Express 999, Salior Moon and Akira! This manga is no slouch. So, in 2012 it was adapted into an anime and is still going strong with 91 episodes under it’s belt (and counting) and even boasts a full lengthened live action feature film to boot. Now, still skeptical of anime; or maybe you just haven’t watched a series since Ash was try to catch the original 150 Pokemon, but just chill for a second before you write off this series and review.

This was a show that I began on a whim, probably after looking at something on my Tumblr wall in a moment of boredom and/or depression. I was, broke, unemployed and pretty much feelign as low as I possibly could at that moment. So, with no expectations for this show, I took a chance and started the series. After the first episode I was hooked. Not in the way that an action show can grab you but in an emotional way, like the first time I saw Bridge to Terabithia (the original and not the remake which I shudder to think about). The series characters paralleled so much of my life at the time and was so compelling, that before I knew it I was 10+ episodes in. Now this isn’t me getting on a soap box and saying that an anime changed my life or anything like that, but I am saying that this amine is one that people can relate to on many levels for a multitude of reasons.

The story follows Mutta Nanba, (in Japan last names come first, so when you watch you will see the surname come first, i.e. Nanba Mutta), he’s just been fired from his rather sweet job as automotive engineer, because his verbally abusive boss was disrespecting his brother Hibito whom is going to become the first Japanese astronaut on to walk on the moon, so, quick to defend of his brother, Mutta headbutted his boss in the face! Freaking. Awesome. However as art imitates life and Mutta’s actions come at a cost. He soon finds himself black listed and unable to find a job. Untriumphantly he returns home to live with his parents and is forced to take any menial job he can find, that is until his past actions eventually bite him in the rear, then it’s back to square one again. All the while, Mutta is trying to remain the staunch older brother, telling his parents not to inform his younger brother what happened. Of course as parents usually do, they don’t adhere to the request and his mother tells Hibito. What ensues from that results in Mutta remembering a promise that he made years ago as a child and the opportunity to make that promise become a reality, when his mother submits his resume to JAXA (the Japanese version of NASA). We get to experience the lives of the Nanba brothers as one is venturing off into space and the other is making his way to catch up to his younger brother.

Filled with a cast of memorable characters like Ozzy – the senior citizen that lives in Houston near Hibito, who has a penchant for gambling (but in a good way), Kenji Makabe – Mutta’s fast friend that he meets during the astronaut candidate processing phase, Serika Itou – Mutt’s love interest with an insatiable appetite, and the person who steals the show whenever he’s on, Apo – Hibito’s pet pug that Mutta ends up watching once Hibito goes to space, (and no Apo doesn’t talk, it’s not that type of anime). Each character has their own motivations for being in the place that they’re in and are each developed so well. Their reasons are as real as you, or me if we were trying to get a job. At the heart of the series, space is the backdrop for every single one these characters hopes and dreams. If as a child you were ever enthralled with all things outer space, than you too can relate. The reason why is because space, and space exploration represents what we can do as human beings. We can colonize new worlds or even the moon if we want to. We can dare to dream again like we did when we were young and it’s okay. Space represents hope in the face of all that’s not, and sometimes that all we ever really ever need. So I highly recommend Space Brothers for that reason alone. Oh, and did I mention that the hallmark of every anime, Space Brothers included, is the kick ass opening and closing themes. The theme for the first 13 episodes in a awesome J-Rock (Japanese rock) song by a band named Unicorn called “Feels SoMoon”, that really sets the tone for the series. The themes never let up, and you will enjoy them every time that they are on. Inversely, the ending themes are just catchy and enjoyable and are like a kiss goodnight after a great date (get it together Hollywood, you don’t need that much freaking ad time). Bonus, you get exposed to a different type of music that you may never have heard before, so thank in advance for broadening you musical pallet.

I could go on but I think you get my drift. Watch Space Brothers. But of course; you don’t have to take my word for it.

October 22, 2013

This is Halloween: Maniac (2012)

Maniac (2012) – Perspective


In modern horror, the thought of re-making fringe horror films is always confusing to me. What audience is this re-make for?  Who is going to see it?  Is it viable for a studio to release a film that maybe a handful of people will see, let alone be nostalgic for?  I raise my hand proudly!  I love cult horror films, they always hold a special please in my sick little heart.  Some of my fondest memories, like I’ve mentioned before, was watching USA’s Up All Night, and MonsterVision on TNT with Joe Bob Briggs.

While horror in recent years has been stripped of its soul and replaced with found footage and other nonsense, it’s nice to know that someone is still out there respecting the cult horror of yesteryear.  That person is Alexandre Aja.  This Frenchman knows his horror, even if its over-the-top, gut-wrenching, blood-soaked horror, its the horror that I love.  He knows just how far to push the exploitation envelop, and while he might not have directed the film I’m about to get into reviewing, he was the brainchild behind developing  the 2012 remake of “Maniac” based on the 1980 original.

“Maniac” stars Elijah Wood as Frank, a loner who runs a mannequin shop in an unnamed urban sprawl.  Devoted to his work, needless to say he has a hard time connecting with the opposite sex, so he does what any normal person would do;  he trolls dating sites (a plot point that quickly loses steam), murders, and scalps women.  That is until the day he meets Anna, a young artist interested in his mannequins.  While Frank tries to pursue a normal relationship with Anna, his thirst for blood is unquenchable and he continues to kill.

Sure, I’m simplifying the plot for sake of spoilers, but there is a lot to like about “Maniac.”  While there are are deviations from the original, namely the infamous “Disco Boy Scene” the remake focuses on Frank’s relationship with his mannequins, women, and his rather complicated mommy issues.  While the “Disco Boy Scene” would have been cool to see with modern SFX, it would have added nothing to the remake overall.  But fret not gorehounds, there are plenty of moments where you’ll forget all about “Disco Boy.”

Comparing the original “Maniac” to it’s remake is tough to do.  The original relies on tension, with a grimier and grittier look, very reminiscent to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”  Joe Spinell, who was already a pretty rough looking dude, plays Frank to a tee and there is never any doubt he’s a maniac.  The on-screen murders are brutal and you feel the terror of his victims as well as the pain of Spinell who is acting against his will and can’t stop killing.

This time around Elijah Wood plays Frank, and while you might think Wood as a murderous creep is a tough sell, see what he did in “Sin City” as Kevin, or just see what he’s doing now as Ryan Newman on “Wilfred.”  Wood gives a convincing performance as the twisted serial killer who collects scalps, which he adorns to the top of his mannequins’ heads.

The choice to shoot most of the film from Frank’s perspective is an interesting choice.  It’s found footage without being found footage.  I would almost consider “Maniac” the serial killer version of “Enter the Void,” from Gaspar Noe.  You might even call this film a “first-person killer.”  There are a few scenes where the camera swings around to reveal Frank making a kill, but for the most part, I like the idea of “actually” see ing through the eyes of the killer.

Is 2012’s “Maniac” and improvement over the original?  It all depends on your perspective.  The original was playing up the fears of the still-fresh-in-their-minds “Son of Sam” murders in New York from the late 1970s, so it was reasonably timely and terrifying at the same time.  The remake is pretty much a shot in the dark, cashing in on the found footage craze and the dying out torture-porn aesthetic.  It’s also rips off some of the retro-style of “Drive,” however, I respect the fact that directors and writers who are fans of cult genre fare, like “Maniac,” decided to take the proverbial stab at making a genre film that only hardcore horror fans would be familiar with.  I salute Aja and director Franck Khalfoun for creating something with teeth to compete against dribble like “Paranormal Activity 45: Stop Moving Into This House!” and doing a little-known classic justice some 30 years later.

Fun Fact:  “Goodbye Horses” by Q. Lazzarus, is featured in another prominent film; 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs” which also featured a serial killer who murdered women.

October 15, 2013

This Is Halloween: The American Scream

The American Scream – Spirit


What’s American?  Apple pie?  Baseball?  Government shutdowns?  Sure, all these things makes America great, but something has to be missing….what could it be? How about starting your own business, being an entrepreneur?  That’s one thing, admittedly, America is good at doing.  In the documentary, “The American Scream,” we follow three people taking their obsession to new heights: the art of creating homemade haunted houses.

In the town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Halloween is a big deal, as it usually is in a small town.  Sure, you have your houses that only put out a jack-o-lantern or maybe some cobwebs in the windows, but three particular residences in Fairhaven turn their homes into “house haunts.”

The American Scream” follows Victor Bariteau, an office drone who dreams of turning his house haunt into a full time job, the father and son team of Matt and Richard Brodeur, who share an interesting and symbiotic relationship, and finally Manny Souza, a city worker who recently suffered a heart attack and who’s house haunt is in danger of not getting done on time.

The documentary begins 31 days before Halloween as all three families are starting to prep for the big day.  What makes this film so interesting is how much the holiday means to each family, but at the same time how it turns them against each other, to a degree.  Victor, who dreams of making this once a year holiday his career, has sacrificed spending Halloween with his family, such as trick-or-treating.  Keeping up on repairs to his house has also suffered, leaving his home a mess.  Manny tries to keep up with Victor, and does a decent job, but with him not being in the best of health has to rely on the kindness of strangers that share his love for the holiday.

“The American Scream” offers a look into a holiday that many retail stores pass over most of the time.  Sure, you have your costume shops like “Spirit of Halloween” and “Halloween Express” but by the time October comes around, Christmas decorations are already up in stores, and aside from sales on candy, Halloween is a holiday that is treated like the bastard child of American holidays.  Hell, Arbor Day gets nearly as much publicity.  It’s refreshing to see a small community get behind a holiday like Halloween an give it the respect it deserves.

While some people do get into the holiday spirit, that holiday is usually Christmas.  You have bright lights, shining stars, and who could forget that cute little manger scene that folks are so keen on.  You look at Halloween and you have everything that is anti-Christian; ghosts, goblins, and zombies, but, if you read your Bible, the Good Book is full of things that you might consider evil; Satan, ghosts, and vengeful spirits.  I might be getting a little off-topic here but why is Halloween usually treated with such contempt, while there was plenty of superstitious nonsense going on during Christmas.

Getting back to small towns,  Halloween is a much bigger deal, and it shows in “The American Scream.”  It shows that Halloween brings people together and is a much more communal holiday than that of Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I mean you don’t let people into your house when you’re having Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, but you will nearly invite people into your home to collect candy or enter a spooky haunted house that takes you months to construct so that it can be enjoyed for just one evening.  That’s putting heart into a holiday.

Living in Florida, I weep sometimes when I see what states like Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and California do to commemorate Halloween.  Sure, we have Halloween Horror Nights, one of the better Halloween-themed attractions in the state, but the costs for Horror Nights have become astronomical and price a lot of true Halloween fans out.  In states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, where Halloween still truly lives and breathes, its created by true fans of the holiday who want to share their joy with the masses.  Sure, there is money to be made, but you can’t put a price tag on screams and the adrenaline rush you get when a man with a fake ax and a skeleton mask jumps out of the dark to scare you half to death.  That’s “The American Scream” right there.

Fun Fact:  According to Haunt World, the best Haunted Attraction in the US in 2013 is The 13th Floor/The Asylum in Denver, CO.

September 24, 2013

It’s a Disaster

It’s a Disaster: Splendid

2012 / 88 min / Comedy | Drama

If you’re looking for a film to watch this week I found it.

With all the crap that is around these days on TV and even in the theater, check out; It’s a Disaster.

The film itself is far from being a disaster. It’s very witty, funny and down right enjoyable.

It’s Splendid.

My favorite part of the whole film is how it does a turn in the story. At first you’re presented with a simple friends meeting to have dinner type of film. You know the type. Each character is having his and hers relationship problems, cheating and simply falling out of love. Everyone knows each other, there all good friends and this is something they have been doing for quiet a while now.

The only new person at the table is David Cross, who I’ve always thought steals the show of which he’s on, even in interviews, he just steals the spotlight in his funny way.

The dialogue is lovely and the random characters like the next door neighbor and the call center guy, don’t just pop up without the viewer noticing. They pop up and steal the scenes making you laugh.

There is a ton in this film that I feel will make you smile ear to ear and keep your eyes glued to your TV.

The ending might upset a few, but I thought it was just downright perfect… Enjoy!

August 22, 2013

Nature Calls

Nature Calls: Ouch

79 min  –  Comedy (?)  –  2012

So one night a friend and I went on Netflix looking for a film to watch. You know, late night snacking with a “funny” movie playing, drinking beers and pissing the night away. When we finished watching this film we both could not help but wonder why we watched the whole damn thing. It’s such a crappy film, I think we both were in a shocked state of mind.

Polar-opposite brothers Randy and Kirk never saw eye-to-eye, but their rivalry is taken to a new level when Randy hijacks Kirk’s son’s sleepover, taking the boys on a Scout Trip to remember. (IMDB)

So why does this film suck so much?

It’s a comedy film that has maybe 12 seconds of funny in it. Out of the 79mins only 12 seconds is funny? Well I’m not sure how that can be counted as a comedy film.

I mean, Schindler’s List was funnier…

With a cast like Nature Calls I think I’m angrier that it’s as bad as it is.

Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggie, Darrell Hammond and Patrice O’Neal (his last film).

And this film still sucks? I like the story, the actors but the script just wasn’t ready and maybe could have been worked on by its awesome cast.

If you come across it one night, Skip it.

August 10, 2013

True Stories: The Iceman


The thing about reviewing films based on a true story is you’re usually limited to technical aspects of the film.  Barring some historical inaccuracy, the only fair thing to harp on is how the story is told.  Essentially because it all really happened.  You can’t complain about an ending that really happened.  You can’t complain about character choices that really happened.  You mainly hope that the way the filmmakers tell the story is compelling and that the actors give strong and truthful performances of their real life counterparts.  The Iceman, sadly, is a film that seems to fall just short of doing both of those things.

The story of The Iceman centers around the real life story of cold blooded mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski and how he keeps his murderous career a secret from his family.  Essentially, what if No Country For Old Men’s Anton Chigurh on his off days was Danny Tanner from Full House.  It is as terrific a set up and interesting a story for any film.  Just as the plot for that gets started, just as you are ready to see the rise of this hitman through the mob ranks and the elaborate lies he must concoct in order to remain the unassuming patriarch of his family, the film starts a two hour journey to RUSH past both elements clumsily.  And it doesn’t stop.  Both selling points the movie has are handled either through stunted montages or RUSHED time jumps.

One minute, Richard has just entered the world of contract killing.  The next minute, he is a seasoned pro.  All the ins and outs of being an effective hitman and rising through the ranks as the number one mob soldier are skipped over or RUSHED.  A counter to that criticism could be that the film isn’t about the contract killing.  Maybe it is about the family dynamic throughout.  Fine.  One minute Richard is a brand new father struggling to get he and his wife a better place to live.  The next minute, he has a second teenage child and they’re all living in a house in the suburbs.  All his lies to his wife and kids and all of the moments you want to see from a guy leading a dubious double life are skipped over or RUSHED.  Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be about the double life stuff either.  Maybe it is about Richard’s cold blooded nature and the horrible past that leads to the apropos title of this film.  A true character study of a sociopath.  Well, the structure of the film short circuits that by being mum about his upbringing until a sudden exposition dump in one scene.  There is a pivotal part where the normally cold blooded murderer Richard discovers a young teenager has witnessed him killing someone.  He decides to let her go.  Why?  It is alluded to later, but to that point the film had done nothing to hint at this character having a conscience.  Basically the opposite, in fact.  It hadn’t earned that moment.  My point is that if these dynamics of Richard Kuklinski’s life were focused on or fleshed out more instead of sped through, the film would have had a clearer direction.

The cast for The Iceman is of a particularly high quality but a bit misplaced.  Michael Shannon, or as I like to call him, Willem Dafoe 2.0, is the centerpiece of this film.  As much as I do like him as an actor, I am not certain of him in the part of Richard Kuklinski.  Now don’t get me wrong.  The lack of anything but intensity behind his eyes make him perfect as the murderous hitman.  He has made a career of playing people like that.  However, Shannon is somewhat unconvincing as a loving husband and father.  I mean ladies, are you really going home with THIS GUY?  This goes again to my previous dilemma of criticizing true stories.  Perhaps Kuklinski was as stoic a dad as he was in this film.  I’m not sure.  However, I can’t help but wonder how better the movie would have been served if someone like a Thomas Jane, a Josh Brolin or a Mickey Rourke was cast as Kuklinski.  Someone you can buy portraying both facets of the man’s life.   Winona Ryder plays the oblivious wife Deborah.  Ryder is fine here but her chemistry with Shannon is marginal at best.  And though the film wants to split time between home life and mob life, Deborah’s relationship with Richard still feels too short changed.  Right when we start to get a solid emotional scene between the two of them, it ends unceremoniously.  The cast is rounded out by an odd Chris Evans, an almost unrecognizable David Schwimmer, a very recognizable James Franco, Stephen Dorff, and Ray Liotta.  Liotta, a man who’s best role was in a film that had the structure I wish this film would have had.

As true stories go, The Iceman isn’t a particularly high ranking one.  The disjointed and RUSHED method the story is told really hamstrings what this film could have been.  The story of Richard Kuklinski is still best told by the man himself in the HBO documentary Confessions Of A Mafia Hitman.  However, if you happen upon the story’s one dramatization, try to keep up…look out for ice cream trucks…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

February 5, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson: Mixed

(2012) 94 min  –  Biography | Comedy | Drama 

The film is good. I found it mixed thou, do to the films focus. 

The issue here is we’re presented with almost two different stories in a short 94 minute film. In the beginning we start with the relationship with FDR and Daisy (his sixth cousin) and that’s fine. But then King George comes to Hyde Park (First time a King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited America) and that’s fine too. But the two just don’t seem to mix well. Sure the story between FDR and Daisy is okay, but to me the fun parts are with FDR and King George. Here we have two of the world’s most powerful people, and they both have disabilities.

King George has issues speaking and FDR can’t walk. At a time of world war this is a story that is simply amazing. So I found the relationship between the two a hell of a lot fun as these two men find out that they’re more similar then they would of thought. Then the film goes back to Daisy and I just kept wanted it to head back with King George. This kept happening and I kept thinking why couldn’t the whole film be about FDR and George. I enjoyed the way the film looked but the script I thought lacked focus.

Bill Murray was awesome. I really enjoyed him
playing that of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I also thought Samuel West as King George VI was good too. The rest of the cast was pretty good but like I said FDR and King George’s relationship is the best thing about this “mixed” film.

January 31, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Savages

Savages – C’mon

There are times when a film comes around that you hear about, wait to see it, finally see it, are extremely pleased with the results, but come the end of the movie you’re thinking to yourself, “What just happened?” That’s the film “Savages,” where come the end of the film, or what you think is the end of the film, you scream out, “C’MON!

When you think about Oliver Stone you have to think about the amount of directors that he’s influenced;  I would bet one American dollar that there isn’t a director, living or dead, that would say they weren’t influenced by either the writing or directing talents of Stone.  He uses spiritual imagery in an effective way, loves to show sex and violence, but there is still a tongue-in-cheek element when he goes to the extreme, especially in his post-“Platoon” work.  Lately he’s had his ups-and-downs, trying to cash in on old ideas (“Wall Street”), but when “Savages” was announced I was a little excited.  It looked and felt like old-school Stone, circa “Natural Born Killers.”  Gritty, bloody, sexy, and violent.  Even the cast was young and hip.  So why was “Savages” a let down?  Let’s take a walk.

“Savages” stars Blake Lively as O, or Ophelia, who is “shared” by two independent pot growers/sellers, played by Aaron Johnson and “Mr. Chicken Burrito” himself, Taylor Kitsch.  Everything is going swimmingly for the three until they turn down a request from Baja Cartel Mistress, Elena.  Things go from bad to worse for the three as they find themselves at war with the Cartel.  The violence is brutal at times, but what would you expect from a vicious Mexican Cartel.  Just read or listen to the news and I’m sure you’ll read, or hear, much worse.

Lively is the backbone of this film, and rightfully so.  I think she kind of gets a raw deal in Hollywood due to her “Gossip Girl” ties, but she holds her own in “Savages” and gives a pitch-perfect performance of a girl who is both the “damsel in distress” and the “strong heroine.”  If you want to see Lively in another good performance check out “The Town.”  For someone who you would take a quick glance at and write her off as just eye-candy, she can act, and takes chances.  We need more Blake Livelys and less Brooklyn Deckers and whoever that girl is who can’t close her mouth in “Transformers 3.”

The plot twists and turns and keeps you on your toes throughout.  You really never know who is the next person to get killed or get caught in the crossfire, and the stakes are pretty high throughout the film.  That is until the “end.”  If Stone had more balls he would have ended the film ten minutes earlier.  The “end” is what you would have expected the whole film, but I guess that’s the whole point.  You expect something Shakespearean, but you get a curveball that really makes you say, once again, “C’MON!”  Like “Hamlet” you expect a tragedy, and you get close, but I of course won’t spoil the fun, because all in all “Savages” is actually the best Oliver Stone film since probably “Killers” or I might even go as new as “Any Given Sunday.”

The one thing you’ll take away from “Savages” is that Stone still has it.  He can still make a film just as visceral as he did in his younger days.  After years of dealing with George W Bush, September 11th, and going back to “Wall Street” there was a question as to whether Stone wanted to deal with darker subject matter. We all know that he’s an intellectual, and a thinking man’s filmmaker, but it was great to see him go back to his hungrier and darker ways with “Savages.”

Fun Fact:  As of 2012, according to the U.S. Government, the largest and most dangerous cartel in Mexico is Los Zetas, which is an off-shoot of the Gulf Cartel.

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