Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky wrote "Perks of being a Wallflower" in 1999 and immediately caused controversy due to Chbosky's portrayal of teen sexuality and drug use resulting in the book being banned.  More than a decade later he wrote the screenplay and directed the film that has yet to receive a wide distribution, but is a powerful film that should be seen by everyone. 

The story takes place in a suburb of Pittsburgh during the early 1990s, when Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a high school student counting the number of days until he graduates.  Charlie is apprehensive due to the death of his only good friend Michael, who committed suicide several months before the story begins.  He does not feel that he can lean on his perfect family with an older brother, Chris (Zane Holtz) that plays football at Penn State, an older sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev) that has a loser boyfriend, and their unnamed parents Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh, because they never truely understood them.  He also explains that the only relative that he ever felt close to was his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), but she was killed in a car accident on his seventh birthday for which he blames himself.

Charlie's life is very simple yet complicated as he journeys through the challenges and the joys of falling in love for the first time.  Trust me when I tell you that this film is anything but an after school special.  Charlie has no friends at first, but receives special attention from his English teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd) even though he realizes that if the only friend he makes is his teacher that he will likely never make any new friends.  The happy-go-lucky Patrick (Ezra Miller) takes him under his wing and welcomes him as a wallflower and to the band of misfits along with his step-sister, Sam (Emma Watson). 

The story manages to go through a spectrum of topics such as homosexuality, drugs and death.   The dialogue is so very honest and is the perfect vision of Chbosky that engages the audience and communicates to the teen that is still in all of us.  What really connects the audience with the story is the soundtrack that includes amazing songs from a mix tape from Chbosky that includes the Smiths "Asleep" and David Bowie’s “Heroes”.  The acting in the film from Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller is absolutely amazing.  While it was nice to see Emma Watson in something outside of Hogwarts, she seemed just a bit off to me.  The lack of parental guidance in the film also appeared amiss to me as they don't have names and are rarely involved with any of the kids lives.  Ezra Miller deserved a nomination for his performance in "We Need to Talk About Kevin", and even more deserving now as a positive role model to gay teens as his performance is not defined by his sexuality.

"Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a powerful film that will find a way to connect with most everyone.  It is one of the best coming-of-age films in recent years and deserves a much larger distribution than it has currently received.  In addition to Ezra Miller's performance which should receive a nomination for supporting actor the screenplay is also very deserving.  This is yet another 5 Quack film and I hope everyone will see this film.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cloud Atlas

The architects behind "Cloud Atlas" are Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana (Lana was Larry until a gender transition that was completed about five years ago).  The film is based on the award winning novel written by David Mitchell.  The novel and film encapsulate six individual stories that narrowly have a link, which draws you in while you try to understand what exactly the link is.  You find yourself grasping at the small clues that link one story to the next, but in the end you aren't entirely sure you fully achieved the complete understanding.  The motives and background of each story is certainly lacking, but somehow the visual components overshadow this glaring void.

In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is on a slave ship and writes a journal that falls into the hands of Robert Forbisher (Ben Whishaw) in Cambridge in 1936 where he is working on a musical composition with Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent).  In San Francisco in 1973, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) finds a recording of the musical composition titled "Cloud Atlas" after reading the letters between Robert Forbisher and his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy).  In London in 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is writing a manuscript of the "Luisa Rey Mystery" when he is confined against his will in a nursing home from which he escapes and becomes the centerpiece of a movie titled "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish", which is seen by Somni-451 (Doona Bae), a genetically engineered fabricant that has achieved independent thought and escapes from captivity with Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess) in Neo Seoul in 2144 where her story establishes her as a religious figure to a post-apocalyptic primitive society.  Meronym (Halle Berry) visits a distant post-apocalyptic primitive society and is lead to the temple of worship by Zachry (Tom Hanks) who must battle his inner demons represented by Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) and other cannibals that oppose the new religion.  The final story of Meronym and Zachry is told to children by the campfire by Zachry several years later to conclude the story.

Confused yet?  There is even more going on as so many of the actors, as you may have noticed, play different characters in each storyline.  The make-up is impressive as you can see through the credits the transformation that takes place from one story to the next.  Hugo Weaving stood out the most for me as he transitions from an 1849 businessman, to a physical nurse in 2012, to an asexual interviewer in 2144, and finally as the Old Georgie who is a devil tormenting Zachry in the post-apocalyptic future.  The make-up for Halle Berry and Tom Hanks was equally impressive as their physical size and skin color was adjusted to each story. 

The performances from the entire cast are amazing; even the smaller contributions from Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant who traverse from one story to the next keeping the audience focused on even the smallest of details. 
David Mitchell took liberties with the novel that allowed for humor to be instilled through self-deprecating observances and clever writing that was incorporated with the film.  Whether it be the disdain for flashbacks and flash forwards, or Javier (Brody Nicholas Lee) warning Luisa Rey that it is usually this time in the story that the main character dies, the subtle humor is not missed by the audience or a theater of critics with the line "what is a critic but someone who reads quickly, arrogantly, but never wisely".  The story is rich with philosophical writing asking "if God created the world how are we to know what we can change and what must stay the same", or that "our lives are not our own, we are bound to others, past and present that with each crime and every kindness we birth our future".

This is a film that will not be for everyone as it challenges the audience much like "Tree of Life" with deep philosophical questions.  With the six stories and a nearly three hour run time it will be difficult to win everyone over.  However, there are some pieces that are worth noting.  The make-up and wardrobe is very deserving of award consideration and quite possibly an adapted screenplay nomination which finds a way to maintain a narrative in the atypical structure.  When I walked out of the theater I was not sure of the rating to give this film, but after taking the time to digest it and better understand the various stories I can see that it is much better than I initially realized and feel comfortable with giving the film 4 Quacks.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Sessions

Yet another festival favorite from Sundance this year was "The Sessions" written and directed by Ben Lewin.  The film was inspired by the writings of Mark O'Brien and the short documentary (see below) by Jessica Yu "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien" (1996), which won the Academy Award for best documentary short. 

While sex is at the center of the story, the film is more about how an individual gains independence.  Independence is a very tricky thing for disabled people.  It doesn't mean that they want to do everything themselves.  Independence has to do with the power being within us, and it is through Cheryl that Mark finds this power.

The film starts with Mark O'Brien's (John Hawkes) poetry and historical footage of Mark navigating his way through the streets of Berkley, California on his way to graduation with a voice over of his poem "Graduation Day".  His existence is confined by the 650-pound iron lung that encases his body and fills his chest with air. But the life he shapes inside is as vital, and as urgent, as breath.  At the age of 37, Mark O'Brien decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of a therapist and his priest (William H. Macy), he contacts Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate.  The film follows the evolving relationship between Cheryl and Mark as she takes him on his journey to manhood through body awareness exercises and intercourse.  Along with understanding his own body, he learns about the female body and the language of sex.  His assistant Vera (Moon Bloodgood) tells him that she prefers to call it a dick, because a penis sounds like a vegetable that you don't want to eat and a dick is what it is.  Cheryl educates Mark that when you touch one breast you have to touch the other, it is sort of a rule.  The biggest rule for a professional sex surrogate is to not let the relationship become personal, however this rule is broken by both Cheryl by allowing them to have a date and by Mark who sends her a love poem.  Cheryl's home life with her son and husband offer just enough of a look into this growing conflict.
John Hawkes has become one of my favorite actors as he has built an amazing resume with recent performances in "Martha, Marcy May, Marlene", "Winter's Bone" and the TV show "East Bound and Down".  His performance captures the spirit of Mark O'Brien perfectly, which is unbelievably difficult given the lack of a physical performance and a complete reliance on his voice and facial expressions.  After watching both the documentary and the film the likeness and voice is perfect.  Mark is a warm, wickedly funny charmer that quickly wins people over. 
Helen Hunt matches John Hawkes instilling a dignity and compassion to Cheryl as she educates Mark in the ways of physical intimacy.  Those teachings tastefully deconstruct the act of sex and all the awkwardness and uncertainty that goes along with it.   She combines professionalism, playfulness, sensuality, and compassion in series of sessions which require full nudity.

Not to be forgotten are the performances from William H. Macy's as Father Brendan, who gives Mark his blessing and becomes a source of counsel, friendship, and laughs throughout the film; and Moon Bloodgood as his main caregiver in a role that requires very little emotion, but just enough life is brought into the character even though her personal life is never the focus.  Additionally, Rhea Perlman makes a brief appearance as a Mikeh Lady assisting Cheryl with her conversion to the Jewish faith providing her own perfect timing and tone.

The film incorporates the vivid imagery of O'Brien's poetry, and his candid, and wry sense of humor.  He was a dynamic voice in a paralyzed body.  It is this body that god crafted for him and that is a beautiful thing.  Both John Hawks and Helen Hunt are very deserving of a nomination as their performances carry the film to a 5 Quack rating.  The screenplay should also get some consideration for its adaptation from Mark O'Brien's writings.

Let me know what you think of the following video in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

"Silver Linings Playbook" is adapted from the debut novel of the same name written by Matthew Quick.  Crazed football fans are at the heart of "Silver Linings Playbook", but the book is also a moving story of a man with mental illness and the people around him.  The film was adapted for the screen and directed by David O. Russell, who is known for his work with ensemble casting and handheld camera use that was so perfectly used in his last film "The Fighter" (2010).  After receiving the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival the film quickly jumped to the top of my list of must see films for the year. 

At the start of the movie Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released from a mental health facility into the custody of his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), and father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).  All Pat's parents want is for him to get back on his feet - and to share their family's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team.  To adjust back to life at home, Pat formulates a theory that should he become a better man his silver lining will be the reconciliation with his ex-wife.  Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a tragically widowed and clinically depressed girl.  Tiffany agrees to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he'll do something for her in return.  As their arrangement plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

The performances in the film are some of the best for the year.  Jennifer Lawrence is intense and with just the look in her eyes you feel that she is on the edge of doing something extreme at any moment.  Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro work amazingly togetherhaving recently worked together on "Limitless" just last year.  Both give a performance that makes it believable that they could be father and son.  Neither have a filter, but the best fatherly advice ever comes at the end as Robert De Niro holds Bradley Cooper close and tells him to go after the woman he loves.  Jacki Weaver is a rich character that keeps the family together. 

The story manages to be comic, tragic, and often surprising.  It delivers to fans of football and "Dancing with the Stars" at the same time as providing an emotional story with rich characters that you want to cheer for.  The movie doesn't end with a medical cure, but instead it ends with healing from his family and love.  Jennifer Lawrence should receive a nomination as well as one fore Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.  The screenplay is very deserving of a nomination and the picture as a whole could even receive the nomination.  The fans at the Toronto International Film Festival got this one right as it is a 5 Quack film.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

Martin McDonagh scares me, but not because he is a psychopath; instead because of how amazingly talented he is.  For those that don't know who Martin McDonagh is, he is an acclaimed Irish playwright best known for writing and directing "In Bruges" (2008) for which he received an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.  Before "In Bruges" he received the Academy Award for "Six Shooter", a live action short film in 2006 (see below).  Recently, he worked with Christopher Walken on the Tony Award nominated play A Behanding in Spokane and is currently working on a new stage musical with composer Tom Waits.  Along with his friend Colin Farrell the rest of the casting for "Seven Psychopaths" is comprised of Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Zeljko Ivanek and some female actresses that do very little more than look pretty on screen. 

The film starts with Larry (Michael Pitt) and Tommy (Michael Stuhlbarg) discussing how they are going to kill someone.  For fans of "Boardwalk Empire" it is always fun to see these two together.  This is also the introduction to the Jack of Diamonds Killer and the quick departure for Jimmy Darmody and Arnold Rothstein.

The story focuses on Marty (Colin Farrell) who is an alcoholic screenwriter struggling to write his latest script, but he does have the title done.  Being a pasophist, he is struggling with writing a story about Seven Psychopaths while staying true to his anti-violence, peaceful desires.  Marty’s best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), wants him to finish the screenplay by any means possible, and is constantly looking to inspire him by giving him ideas for psychopaths.  Billy tells him to read an article about a current Los Angeles serial killer known as the Jack of Diamonds Killer,  tells him an urban legend about a vengeful Quaker, and even posts an ad in the newspaper.  Billy’s an actor, but between gigs runs a dog catching (borrowing) scheme with Hans (Christopher Walken). After kidnapping a Shih Tzu that happens to belong to a violent gangster (Woody Harrelson), the most amazing story unfolds that will keep you laughing and cringing through the film credits.

"Seven Psychopaths" is a tongue-in-cheek comedy that employs dueling dynamics, both as a film about the film making process and having its characters actually live the film they’re writing. While it perhaps doesn’t have quite the sarcastic edge as it may be trying to employ, it has as many flashes of comedic excellence as it does brutal violence.  The film also serves as a dialogue between Martin McDonagh and the audience, even addressing the criticism that he cannot write women characters, claiming none of them are even able to put a sentence together.  Likewise, the three females in the film (Gabourey Sidibe, Olga Kurylenko and Abbie Cornish) are all given short screen time.  Respectfully, Linda Bright Clay has one of the best performances in a hospital room with Wood Harrelson. 

I don't want to spoil the big final shootout that Billy has in store, but for 5 Quacks this is a film that will get people talking.  Martin McDonagh should again receive a nomination for the screenplay; and while the acting performances are all amazing none rise to the level of award consideration. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Ben Affleck again takes on double duty as the director and actor in the political thriller "Argo".  Having also directed "Gone Baby Gone" (2007) and "the Town" (2010) there are going to be high expectations.   "Argo" is loosely based on Tony Mendez's account of the true story of how a CIA exfiltration specialist attempts to free six U.S. diplomats from Tehran who have taken shelter in the home of the Canadian Ambassador during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis also known as the "Canadian Caper".  The heroic mission was kept top secret until President Bill Clinton lifted the mission's classified status in 1997.  After receiving people's choice praise at the Toronto Film Festival, this quickly became a must see film for me.

The story opens with a mixture of cartoon story boards and historic news footage telling the story of the political events between the U.S. and Iran that lead up to Iranian militants taking control of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and taking 52 Americans hostage.  During the siege six American's were able to escape and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home.  President Jimmy Carter is shitting enough bricks to build a pyramid and turns to the CIA who is looking for the best of all the bad ideas as it appears to be a situation that cannot be resolved.  Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is an exfiltration specialist with the CIA that creates a plan to rescue the house entrapped Americans by posing as a film crew for a fake science fiction film titled "Argo".  In an effort to have the mission legitimized, Mendez recruits Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Special Effects man John Chambers (John Goodman) to give the project credibility with the idea of turning the fake movie into a fake hit.  Tony Mendez finally gets permission from the U.S. government, his boss (Bryan Cranston), and the White House (Kyle Chandler) to make a fake movie. 

The casting in the film is absolutely amazing and the performances are some of the best this year.  There are several casting choices that are mostly familiar through TV.  Zeljko Ivanek and Titus Welliver (best known as the man in black from "Lost") work at the CIA along with Bryan Cranston whose best idea was to give the six American's bikes to escape.  Luckily, training wheels and Gatorade weren't enough to seal the deal.  The six American's seeking to escape are Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham), Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishe), and Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane).  For the most part they are unknown, but that helps disconnect (and connect) the familiarity of the story to the audience.  The American's are aided by an actual Canadian, Victor Garber (best known for Alias). 

Even though Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are not receiving significant screen time in the film, they deliver the more memorable performances.  They certainly had the best lines, but their performances go beyond the clever lines that contribute to bringing some laughs to the otherwise serious story.  They fit perfectly and during the closing credits they are shown in photographs next to the real people they are recreating and it is impressive how similar they look.  The authenticity of the story is enhanced by the historic news footage from Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw as well as footage from President Jimmy Carter.

Ben Affleck's previous films have only received Oscar nominations for supporting roles, but I have a feeling that Ben Affleck will receive a nomination for best director, and possibly supporting nominations for Alan Arken and Bryan Cranston.  Overall, "Argo" should also receive a best picture nomination and receives 5 Quacks.  Really cannot think of a reason someone wouldn't enjoy this film, so if you do find yourself on the outside... well "argo fuck yourself". 

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