Monday, August 27, 2012

21 Jump Street

If you grew up in the 80s like I did, then you were familiar with the early years of Johnny Depp.  Prior to "21 Jump Street" Johnny Depp was only known for "A Nightmare on Elm Street", but in the 25 years since, he has become one of my personal favorite actors and what could be better than to revive an old police program with  Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum? 

Jonah Hill (Schmidt) and Channing Tatum (Jenko) are two rookie cops who went to high school together, though belonging to different social circles. Jenko was the popular jock while Schmidt was the unpopular nerd. When they realize each has something the other one needs, a friendship sparks and they become partners.  After a failed drug bust where Jenko forgets the Miranda rights, they're reassigned to a special division at 37 Jump Street (wait that isn't right) when their police station decides to "revive a cancelled program from the 80s" (get it?).  The people behind this lack creativity and they've run out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle shit from the past and hope that nobody will notice.  They're sent to a local high school undercover as students to investigate and bring down a synthetic drug ring.  The first four stages of using the synthetic drug are “Giggles”, “Tripping Balls”, “Insane Over-Confidence”, and “Holy Motherfucking Shit” (stage five is either “Asleepyness” or death). 
Channing Tatum is known more for his abs and less for his comedy; however he performs well against Jonah Hill.  Their performances really looked like believable best friends that had worked together a dozen times before.  The two actors have great chemistry together building this buddy film up from rather low expectations.  Their characters develop exactly as cliché as you would expect them to.  Jenko was the popular jock that wore his backpack over one shoulder, but now finds himself with the AP Chemestry kids.  Schmidt realizes that he is suddenly the popular kid and akwerdly allows himself to be attracted to the emotional challenged high school sweet heart Molly (Brie Larson).  The shocking change to two straps isn't the only generational difference that Schmidt and Jenko experience.  They realize that kids are weird these days, with clicks that they hadn't even heard of before and realizing that nobody calls on a phone anymore, but instead kids text (guess what so do adults). 

Having Officer Penhall (Peter DeLuise) and Hanson (Johnny Depp) as deep undercover DEA agents was a perfectly corny way to pay homage to the 80s and wrap up the story for a new generation.  The guest appearances don't stop with these two as holly Robinson Peete reprises her role as Officer Hoffs.  The role call of cameos runs deep with Ellie Kemper as a horny teacher, Rob Riggle as the annoying gym teacher, Chris Parnel as an overly excited drama teacher, Jake Johnson as the school Principal, Nick Offerman as a Police Chief, and Ice Cube as a bad-ass Police Captain with respect for Korean Jesus. 

I will admit that I thought the idea of this film was terrible.  But despite the title this film is anything but an adaptation. While the TV show was primarily a drama, the film is essentially a satire of 80s nostalgia and teen and cop movies.  Sure there are holes in the script, but who cares.  During the chase scene you are just like Jenko and Schmidt thinking that there really should be more explosions.  Just enjoy this 3 Quack film for what it is supposed to be and respect Korean Jesus.  By no means was it necessary to see this in the theater, in fact this film is best on DVD at home with a couple beers so you can laugh out loud and enjoy the deleted scenes.  It will be interesting to see what Schmidt and Jenko can get into during college.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Being Flynn

Having read the book "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City" written by Nick Flynn, I was very interested in seeing how the film "Being Flynn" would be adapted for the big screen.  The story is universal father-son story asks the question if we are destined to become our parents; and can we break out from the form.  The film is not watered down, which contributes to a slow pace.  Paul Weitz adapted the screenplay and directed the film. 

The film operates with a dual narrative between Nick's story and the words of Jonathan.  The story follows the reunion between Nick Flynn (Paul Dano), a social worker working at a homeless shelter who spots his father who he hasn't seen for his entire life, Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), checking into the homeless shelter.  More importantly the story deals with their troubled pasts and the difficulty of moving on.  Having Jonathan in the homeless shelter disorients Nick and leads him to belligerent behavior similar to his father.  The memories of his mother (Julianne Moore), his relationship with a co-worker (Olivia Thirlby), and batteling with his own demons makes everything crash down at once. 

The depiction of what it means to be homeless in America and how society treats them is shockingly raw.  Nothing is more telling than the few short scenes in the coffee shop where Jonathan is once served an extra mug of coffee while a homeless person is shunned outside, only to later be pushed aside for a paper cup and told to stay outside later in the film.  The human being hasn't changed, but the perception has.  There's this one shot of Jonathan curling up on a grate that's blowing warm air on a freezing night that sticks with you after the film ends. You're eventually looking down at Jonathan; all bundled up as the camera slowly ascends to the heavens.  The visual of a heated room with no walls that you cannot escape from because if you do you will be frostbitten is so sad. 

This is the best Robert De Niro performance in years. His anger and racism towards people he doesn't understand, his delusions of becoming a great writer and his slow downward spiral into violent dementia are really powerful and De Niro portrays all of it exceptionally well with dark humor and nobility.  This performance is deserving of consideration for a best supporting actor nomination. 

Paul Dano is an amazing young actor that much like his character struggles to follow in the footsteps of De Niro.  Dano's performance delivers a weird intensity and openess to watch how the chemistry between he and everyone around him.  The other performances in the film from Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Lili Taylor, and Dale Dickeyare all amazing.   With a story about two men, it is fascinating to see the powerful women in their lives and how they impact the man they are.

Being Flynn isn't an easy film to access, but will more than likely touch you in some way.  I wanted to enjoy the film even more after having read the book.  The main drawback being the pacing of the film.  Being Flynn allows you to witness the troublesome times of an individual, destroy themselves, and eventually rebuild themselves for the better.  But in the end all I can give it is 4 Quacks. 

We Neet to Talk About Kevin

In the wake of high school shootings, Lionel Shriver wrote the novel that was adapted for the screenplay "We Need to Talk About Kevin". 
Lionel Schriver wrote the story in a series of letters between Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly).   Lynne Ramsay wrote the screenplay and directed a visual that is flush with symbolism using red paint, strawberry jam, red jackets, etc.  Even without showing any violent acts, the film is filled with bloody symbolism that makes you cringe.  

The story follows two points in time for Eva Khatchadourian who is trying to piece together her life following the "incident".  She lives a solitary life as people in the community openly shun her to the point of violent actions toward her.  The incident involved her son Kevin (Ezra Miller), who Eva always had a troubled relationship with.  Whatever troubles she saw, Franklin, Eva's husband, just attributed it to Kevin being a typical boy.

Tilda Swinton received a nomination for her performance, which was deserved for her amazing range of emotion.  However, even more impressive was Ezra Miller.  He is an interesting young actor that with just his eyes can really deliver a frightening performance.  He was disturbing in “Another Happy Day” (2011) and I look forward to seeing him in his 2012 summer performance in “Perksof Being a Wallflower”.   The diabolical smile on his face reminds me of Heath Ledger as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”.  He deserved a nomination for best actor (or supporting) for his performance.  

One of the best scenes has to be when the a pair of Mormon missionaries come to her door and ask where she will be spending the afterlife.  And with nearly no hesitation she responds that she is going to hell, eternal damnation the whole bit.  She shuts the door and the two missionaries turn to each other with a blank face unsure how to react. 

The culminating interaction between the mom and the son wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped it would be.  Due to the subject of the film, it is difficult to promote the film, but the performances stand up and give proper respect to the difficult emotions.  As compared to another film of the topic that came out last year "A Beautiful Boy", this too is deserving of a 5 Quack rating. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blade Runner

Yes, I previously had not seen "Blade Runner" all the way through.  Sure I had seen pieces of it, in fact the majority of it, but recently it was being aired on AMC to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film noir classic.  "Blade Runner" is a 1982 science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah.  The screenplay was loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

The film depicts an apocolyptic Earth in 2019 in which genetically engineered organic robots called replicants, virtually identical to humans, that are manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation. The replicants are superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence.  Replicants were used off-world as slave labor in hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets.  After a bloody mutiny the replicants have been declared illegal and are hunted down and "retired" by police known as "Blade Runners".

The biggest question for the film is if Decker is a replicant?  What do you think...
Watching a film from 30 years ago will invoke comparison to current films.  While SciFi is generally known currently for high special effects and a space theme, there have been several in recent years that hold their own as well.  However, it is the simplicity of the film noir take on SciFi that gives "Blade Runner" the edge and allows it to stand up to the test of time.  Also standing the test of time are the performances in the film.  Most of us have enjoyed the careers of Harrison Ford and Daryl Hannah, among others.  However, it is one of the lesser roles in the film that caught my attention as William Sanderson (JF Sebastian the genetic designer) has more recently been seen on the TV series "True Blood" as former Sheriff Bud Dearborn.

To watch a film that enspired so many others, and writing the inspired lyrics for Nine Inch Nails (more human than human) is fun.  Thirty years later the film still stands up and with modern reboots of films like Total Recall, I cannot help but think that eventually Hollywood will decide to reboot the image of Rick Deckard and Roy Batty.  To be clear I am not a fan of reboots, and hope that it never happens.

In 1983 the film only received nominations for visual effects and set direction.  That year brought other callsics like "Ghandi" and E.T.: Extra-Terrestrial.  I don't think "Blade Runner" should have won over these classics, but I do think it desserved a nomination.  The screenplay, the directing and the performances all deserved the attention for this 5Quack film. 

Friends with Kids

What happens when the cast of Bridesmaids (2011) gets together for an entirely different type of comedy.  "Friends with Kids" brings together Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, and Jon Hamm in a film written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt. 

The story relates three different couples at various stags of their relationships.  The main pair is Adam Scott (Jason) and Jennifer Westfeldt (Julie), who is working triple duty as the writer/director. They are two best friends who decide to have a child together while keeping their relationship platonic, so they can avoid the toll kids can take on romantic relationships.  This ideal situation is contrasted by Maya Rudolph (Leslie) and Chris O'Dowd (Alex) who are busily married with two children.  The third relationship is a loveless marriage of Kristen Wiig (Missy) and Jon Hamm (Ben) who where once an overly affectionate couple making love in the restaurant restroom and now completely despise the idea of each other.  

Julie and Jason have been best friends for years with no romantic interest in each other. Jason sleeps with someone new every few days, and Julie is looking for Mr. Right. Now in their thirties, they notice that their friends seem to lose all their good qualities when they are married and have children; together they wonder if there is a better way.  So instead they decide that they will be 100% committed to the arrangement of having a child together 50% of the time.  They can get the joy of having a child without all of the messy parts of a relationship.  They can remain friends and still go out and have relationships with better looking people like Kurt (Ed Burns) for Julie and Mary Jane (Megan Fox) for Jason.  What could go wrong? 

The film follows a formula, so you won't be surprised by how the film ends.  However, the performances are fun to watch and engage you in how they get to the ultimate conclusion.  What the arrangement doesn't take into consideration is the most important part of a relationship, the unknown factor that together gets resolved and helps to strengthen a relationship.  The three year time laps of the film is at times laughable, as they ignore some of the critical moments of the arrangement.  You never see Julie pregnant and you never really understand why Ben and Missy are no longer in love with each other.  The ending, while expected, is poorly written.  Jason's line of "let me fuck the shit out of you tonight and prove that I'm so into you in that way" was shockingly bad, considering the rest of the film was written so well.  I do wish that I had seen this in the theater, but ultimately it is only a 3 Quack film and netflix hasn't disappointed me. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Lawless” is the Hollywood name given to Matt Bondurant’s novel, “The Wettest County in the World,” which was inspired by the true stories of his grandfather and great-­uncles, who were moonshiners in Franklin County, Virginia.  The film is directed by John Hillcoat and differentiates itself from other historical films by focusing not on a heralded figure in history, but instead on the regular people that are too often forgotten by the history books. 
The film focuses on the three Bondurant brothers; Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and the runt of the litter is Jack (Shia LaBeouf).  The film tells the compelling story of the moonshine and bootlegging business which was prominent in the Prohibition era.  The Volstead Act of 1919 lead to the illicit manufacture and trade that didn’t end with the repeal of Prohibition.  Franklin County was known as the “wettest county” as just about every family had someone involved in the trade.  With the notoriety of being labeled the “wettest county” comes the attention of Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) and the rest of the establishment that are seeking a piece of the illegal action and looking to make things difficult for anyone not willing to toe the line.  While others in the community allowed for the local government and the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) to bully them, the Bondurant boys don’t lay down for nobody. 
A secondary story focused on the romantic lives Jack courting Bertha (Mia Wasikowska); and Maggie (Jessica Chastain) working for Forrest.  As the daughter of a preacher, Bertha had a bit of a rebellious streak in her as she accepted the attention of Jack.  However, it is the strong and independent nature of Maggie that stands out in these two female characters. 
Much of the hype for this film will be generated by the fans of Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf.  Both do well in their performances, with Tom Hardy providing a physical dominance that demands respect.  For those that complained they couldn’t understand him in “Dark Knight Rises”, you might actually have a harder time understanding his grunts and mumblings as Forrest.  As for Shia LaBeouf he is still a bit whinny at times, but that goes with his character who is trying to impress Bertha and gain the respect of his brothers. 
The performance from Jason Clarke stood above all of the others, which is impressive considering the amazing cast.  He fully absorbed his role as the wild animal, Howard Bondurant.  The look in his eyes makes you feel that he is crazy drunk and could be ready to explode at any moment.  He is best known for his co-leading role in the TV series “Brotherhood”, but up to now has been in the shadow of fellow “Brotherhood” actor Jason Isaacs.  However, 2012-2013 look to be a big year for Jason Clarke and I look forward to see what he can do with “The Great Gatsby” (2013) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). 
Gary Oldman appears briefly in a couple of memorable scenes, but I wish that his character had been given a bigger part in the story. This would have required the telling of other stories that would have diminished the importance of the main story.  So to limit him to just the few scenes made sense to me.  However, I wish he was casted as the deputy because I think he would have done better than Guy Pearce who played the villain in an uncomfortable way.  I had envisioned the deputy to be similar to the performance Gary Oldman offered up in “Book of Eli”. 
The writing style of Matthew Bondurant lends itself to the adapted screenplay through his detailed descriptions, excellent dialogue, and the scene structure which compartmentalizes each moment of the story.  However, for a story that encompasses a period for the Bondurant boys that spans five years the film missed the mark on this.  In one scene a character may be beaten up and bloodied but only moments later completely cleaned up without a bruise.  The director attempted to compensate for the passing of time through a voice over, but from a technical perspective it detracted from the story. 
An aspect of the novel that is lacking from the film is the inclusion of Sherwood Anderson, who is a writer as well and serves as a “watcher” to the story.  Sherwood Anderson wrote several novels and influenced William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.  He wrote “Kit Brandon” in 1936, which was influenced by his experiences in Franklin County, the legend of Willie Carter Sharpe, and the Great Moonshine Conspiracy trial of 1935.  In a way, “The Wettest County in the World” is a prequel to “Kit Brandon”.  Additionally, the film does not include the pivotal role that the loss of their mother and sisters played on the Bondurant boys, specifically Forrest who felt responsible for their deaths. 
Overall, I found this to be a very well adapted screenplay with performances from Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke that stood above all others.  I would even go so far as to say that Jason Clarke deserves a nomination for best supporting actor.  Additionally, the soundtrack was amazing and might garner a best original song in the mix of amazing songs from Emmy Lou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), and my nominee for best song goes to Willie Nelson.  All together this is a fun 4 Quack film.

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