Maggie Gyllenhaal

February 14, 2017

Love Is Strange: Five Films about Love…or Something Like That

Valentines Day…or Valentimes Day as some people like to call it. Have you heard people say Valentimes Day? Maybe it’s time to start rethinking that public school education, oh, but don’t worry, we won’t have public schools for much longer.

Anywho, yeah, it’s that time of the year again for your VD check-up, and that one you need last week at the clinic doesn’t count. But we get it, you might not have that special someone to buy flowers, chocolates, or even that real cool chocolate-covered Fleshlight that you have on your Amazon Wish List that you might be saving for yourself one of these days (we’ve all been there). So if it;s another one of those February 14th, why don’t you plop yourself in front of your TV, exit PornHub for a couple of hours, and check out one of these great films about love…or something in between.

Secretary

Who doesn’t like James Spader! Before he played our favorite murderous AI-turned-physical-robot, Ultron, he played a lawyer with a love for S&M and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Think of it has a precursor to the “50 Sh(it)ades of Grey” series, only smarter, more heartfelt, and a better understanding of the culture.

Punch Drunk Love

A lot of people say this is Adam Sandler’s best performance, and I have to say that I agree. While I’ll give credit that “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” were funny, mindless and dumb films and made his career and allowed him to build an empire of bad films that made him millions upon millions of dollars and a lucrative Netflix deal…now I have a stomach ache.

Anyway. forget about all that. “Punch Drunk Love” is a heartfelt off-beat romantic comedy that is a lost treasure from Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography. A brow-beaten Sander is very subdued and emotionally unstable but he proves himself to be sympathetic and a warrior for love and respect. Plus Philip Seymour Hoffman gives and over-the-top and great performance.

Warm Bodies

Do you prefer your love a little more…dead? Well, look no further than “Warm Bodies.” Yes, this is basically “Twilight” with zombies, but there is just enough comedy, goofiness, heart to make this standout. Plus, you get in the mind of a zombie as they go about their day. It takes the self-awareness of “Zombieland” and adds a love story, that while silly, is still pretty fun. Plus, John Malkovich.

Audition

I know I’ve talked about this film a lot, and you might wonder why…it’s pretty f*cked up. Yep, it’s certainly f*cked up, but there is something about it that draws me to watching it more often than I probably should. It’s essentially a Japanese version of “Fatal Attraction” with an even more not-so-happy-ending, ex-lovers in burlap sacks, creepy ballet teachers, but at its heart, its the story of a widower looking for a women to mend his broken heart…he just happens to get involved with a woman for a predilection for leather smocks and piano wire.

Sid and Nancy

If you’re a fan of punk rock of the 1970s and all the debauchery from the era, notably when it surrounded the Sex Pistols, “Sid and Nancy,” is for you. Gary Oldman becomes Sid Vicious, the band’s bassist who was short on talent but long on violence, drug use and was essentially, as Johnny Rotten would put it later, “essentially a coat hanger on stage.”

Not only is Oldman excellent, he should have at least been nominated for an Oscar, but the story itself is sad, brutal, funny, and everything in between. If you know anything about the fate of Sid and Nancy, you know where the self-destructive behavior leads, ultimately.

September 10, 2014

Frank

SCARY

Frank – Scary

Don’t let the word above fool you; in no way is “Frank” scary, in that classical sense. It’s scary because of the fact that in the race to be cool and different there are so many pitfalls and things that can trip people up in their way to either being famous or noteworthy that it’s extremely easy to forgot that not everyone has to agree or be like you, but in a world ruled by social media and who yells the loudest or gets the last word in, it’s easy to lose your way and want to be the loudest, and pardon my language, be the biggest dickhead in the room. So I guess the scary part is how close Frank is lampooning the social media culture we live in right now. Other than trying to make a point, Frank is weird, charming, and all together great.

Frank is the story of Jon, a would-be musician with about 20 Twitter followers. As fate would have it, he meets the band Soronprfbs as the keyboardist attempts to drown himself. After discovering that Job can play a few chords on his keyboard, Don, the band’s manager invites Jon to play with the bad that night, which eventually turns into an invitation to help the band record their new album in Ireland. As time progresses, Jon records footage of the band’s daily routine which bolsters his Twitter account numbers and rewards him with an invitation for the band to play at SXSW. Upon arrival in Austin, Soronprfbs discovers that they might not get the reception they anticipated on the eve of their first big performance.

There is no doubt that Frank is a strange film. Every characters has an odd personality quirk and while that could run stale quickly, the manic performance of Michael Fassbender distracts you from a film that could get dull and a little too weird quick.

Speaking of the eccentric cast, aside from Fassbender, everyone else is able to hold their own, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays pretty much every musical archetype that people probably hate. She’s moody, hateful, emotional, and best of all, real. While not all musicians are like this, one of my long-time friends is a musician and he is reasonably normal, but Gyllenhaal plays it up very well, and the reference made later in the film comparing her to Syd Barrett is perfect.

Of course what would be a film about a band be without music, while I have a love/hate relationship with mumble-core, noise-core, post-hardcore indie rock, I actually like all the music in the film. It’s as if Captain Beefheart and Mr. Bungle ran a music school and Soronprfbs were their prized pupil. The best comedic beats of the film feature montages of the band practice, but they are also some of the most heartbreaking looking back.

Frank is essentially a love it or hate it film, despite what you might see on Rotten Tomatoes or other film arrogate sites. While I found it quirky, fun, and distressing all at the same time, that is something that might turn off the average viewer expecting a film about a musician wearing a paper-mâché head and his weird band-mates. There are some funny moments in Frank, and the way that Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is able to ground the film before it gets a little too weird is a nice touch, but there are also some very dark, and scary, moments that are jarring, especially when it comes to the third act.

All in all, Frank is an interesting take on fame, music, and social media-driven success. Grounded by some great acting and music, Frank might not be one of the most conventional films this year, in fact, it’s far from it, but it could very well be the “Her” of 2014.

Fun Fact: Frank’s head is based on the story of Frank Sidebottom.

July 6, 2013

White House Down

NO

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  In this case, however, what we are washing is the previously TERRIBLE White House take over movie that came out only months ago in Olympus Has Fallen.  What we are rinsing it with is water more akin to the foul waste that made The Toxic Avenger and Emil from Robocop what they are today.  And what we are repeating is an idea that would only work for an easy to please audience perpetually living in the year 1992.  White House Down, surprisingly isn’t the worst movie to come out this year. (Hi Lone Ranger)  But boy oh boy it misses that mark by only an ant hair.  I honestly had to go back and reread my previous review of Olympus Has Fallen just so I wouldn’t duplicate it here.  White House Down makes all of the same ridiculous, clichéd, laughable, absurd mistakes as Olympus Has Fallen, but does it with a smile on it’s face.  Because…that’s…better?  Because director Roland Emmerich winks at us as he slips money out of our wallets, we should accept it?  NO.  And I don’t want to hear how we should really lower our expectations when watching such a film.  I did.  What I ended up witnessing was even lower than my already low expectations.

For those who didn’t watch the thousand and one ads run during the NBA playoffs, or…well…didn’t see Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down is about a terrorist attack and take over of the aforementioned White House by a highly trained, highly committed paramilitary group.  A lone, not supposed to be there, regular joe/cop/bodyguard must rescue the President and take back the building.  To follow the lazy, insultingly daft parlance used by most…it is Die Hard…in the White House…again.  That is to say, it is Die Hard in the White House if Die Hard was a comedically awful film with brainless, horribly shot set pieces and bland, underwhelming performance AND NOT…THE BEST ACTION FILM EVER MADE.  Yeah, just like Die Hard.  Watching White House Down is not a popcorn flick experience.  It is merely a test of patience.  How long can you sit there and take stupidity masqueraded as brillance?  How long does the parent who knows their child has begun lying to them let their child continue?  How long do you let that strange and jittery pamphlet guy at the mall talk to you before you tell him you’re not interested?  Not to get too political, but this would be a more Geneva Convention friendly, yet, still effective means of torture to inflict on the prisoners at Guantanamo Mr. President.   Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh?  NO.  This is me bitting my tongue.  It is that bad.

Hey remember when we saw Jamie Foxx win an Oscar for Ray…then we immediately saw him in the horrid Rob Cohen movie Stealth and were like, “Why the hell did Jamie Foxx do this?  He’s better than this.”  Then the sobering realization washed over us as that even celebrities like easy money too?  Well, yeah.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Jamie is coming off of Django Unchained for crying out loud.  A terrific and under-appreciated performance that wonderfully captured the stoic and quiet hero of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns.  What does Roland Emmerich have him do here?  A two hour Obama impersonation.  NO.  I’m not sh%tting you.  The difference between Jamie’s performance in White House Down as The President and a performance on SNL as President Obama is a studio audience.  You are better than this Jamie.  Damn!  I did it again.

My dislike of Channing Tatum stopped somewhere in between Haywire and 21 Jump Street.  He began not taking himself so seriously, stopped making Step Up movies, started working with really talented people, and found his niche as a performer.  However, his name in White House Down might as well be Channing Tatum because there is nothing here for him personality or character-wise.  Father and estranged daughter stuff you say?  NO.  It is a two minute, go through the motions, plot contrivance.  Good rapport with President Obama/Foxx?  NO.  The two of them displayed better chemistry in a mock rap video making fun of Channing’s name.  It is funny and a bit disappointing that the best action vehicles Tatum has managed to star in either have him in it for less then ten minutes or is clearly a comedy.

The rest of the actors hopping on this paycheck train may not be as well-known as the inexplicably star studded cast of Olympus Has Fallen.  However, you’ll still scratch your head wondering how Emmerich managed to cast them.  The always great Richard Jenkins, the undervalued Maggie Gllyennhaal, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Lance Reddick.  All of them seem so out of place here.  My only solace after seeing this was knowing that their 4th of July was probably spent on a newly bought boat instead of inside a quaint and quiet apartment.

To ask me what is better between Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down is like asking me is it better to be shot in the dick or to be shot in the dick.  They are both bad.  Both films try to force feed you bile while pretending it’s caviare.  However, one just plays itself seriously while the other has a lousier poker face about it.  If I can offer an olive branch to these two films, I’d say this.   There is NO way to make a film about a White House take over in modern day and it not be ridiculous.  Solution?  STOP MAKING THEM!  NO more money shots of D.C. buildings blowing up.  NO more lax security at the most SECURED BUILDING IN THE WORLD.  I don’t care how many inside men you have.  NO more poor attempts to portray the president as Rambo.  NO more misunderstandings and misuse of the constitution for plot convenience.   NO more dumb converting of famous quotes from our forefathers into groan inducing one liners.  NO more ripping off Die Hard.  Hell, Die Hard can’t even rip off Die Hard anymore, so stop trying to do friggin’ Die Hard!  Just…NO.  DON’T watch it…DON’T compare it to Die Hard…DON’T make anymore…and DON’T even bother telling me I’m wrong.

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