Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is the darling of the festival season that carried the attention into the award season.  I am glad to see it receiving a second run in theaters to give a new audience a chance to see such a brilliant film.  Written and directed by Behn Zeitlin the film is based on the one-act play written by Lucy Alibar, "Juicy and Delicious".  Life in New Orleans is usually depicted as Mardi Gras partying on Bourbon Street and in recent years with the TV show "Treme" which is a neighborhood rich in diversity of African-American and creole culture.  However, a very real community of people that live in the berrier islands that are cut off from the rest of the world by the levee. 

As a storm approaches the southern Louisiana bayou area called the "Bathtub", Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry), are set in their place in life and are understanding in their dependency on each other.  Hushpuppy is extremely independent for such a young age.  However, she l and accidentally sets her house on fire when she is making dinner for herself.  Wink has a medical condition that he is keeping from Hushpuppy.  As the storm approaches Hushpuppy and Wink start to barricade their home, where the father, in an effort to make his daughter feel better, scares off the storm by shooting at the clouds. The next day, the two tour the devastation and connect with other surviving residents. The Bathtub residents celebrate and make plans to rebuild their community, but everything begins to die because of the salt water brought in by the storm surge. Wink hatches a plan to drain the water away by destroying the levee.

The story of the Auruchs, breaking from the ice and arriving in the Bathtub to confront Hushpuppy seemed a bit confusing to me.  I didn't know what an Aurch was, but apparently they are an extinct cow-like animal whereas in the film they are pig-like creatures.  I may have missed the symbolism there, but couldn't help but be reminded of "Where the Wild Things Are" and wanting to scream "let the wild rumpus begin".  Inside all of us is hope, fear, and adventure.

I often find myself enjoying films that bring to the attention of the media an issue that is being ignored.  This film accomplishes that with great empathy and respect for the isolated people threatened by erosion, hurricanes and rising sea levels.  Everything about this film was beautiful, from the cinamtography to the acting performances delivered by amateurs.  Behn Zeitlin was brilliant and very deserving of a nomination for best director.  Additionally, for the young Quvenzhané Wallis to carry the film through the narration to the physical demands of acting she is very deserving of an best actres nomination. 

The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right, if one piece breaks the entire universe will be broken.  If you don't see this film, at least you need to know that once their was a Hushpuppy that lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.  The film is easily one of the best for the year and receives all 5 Quacks.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

If you have read my blog before you know that I have certain actors and directors that are my favorites.  One of those is Mark Duplass, who is amazing at both even though he is only in his mid-30's.  From his performances on TV with "The League" to the big screen "Safety Not Guaranteed" or "Your Sister's Sister" he is brilliant.  However, his work from behind the camera on "Cyrus" shows that even with an independent film you can make a quality film if you have a quality script.  "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" is that quality script that he co-wrote with his brother Jay Duplass.

The first time you watch this film, it kind of hard to understand what it is about.  It just sort of meanders.  But everything comes together in this one perfect moment in the end.  When you watch it a second time you realize that all this randomness is leading towards that perfect moment, but wonder if it is fate and destiny.  Everyone and everything is interconnected in this universe. Stay pure of heart and you will see the signs. 

The mystery in the film starts with a wrong number call that Jeff (Jason Segal) takes one day asking for "Kevin".  This occupies Jeff who is looking for signs about what to do with his life.  Meanwhile, Jeff's brother, Pat (Ed Helms), overcompensates for his failing marriage (Judy Greer) and is completely disrespectful to everyone, including his brother.  Whether it is a person wearing a shirt with the name Kevin, or a delivery truck for Kevin Kandy, the path that Jeff takes doesn't make sense to everyone, but it does to him and that is what is important.

The script perfectly builds suspense with every twist and leaves you guessing with the randomness that is the path that Jeff is following.  The secondary story of their mother (Susan Sarandon) is so cute and is a perfect example of what other romantic comedies are lacking in that spark and chemistry. 

This is a perfect example of an independent or artsy film that most people write-off as being pretentious or too slow.  But if you give this movie a chance, I am pretty sure you will have a smile on your face in the end.  Much like Jeff, I too cannot help but wonder about my fate and destiny.  This is a 4 Quack film that I consider a must see for everyone.  It is a deeply felt film about human compassion and complexity. 

Trouble With The Curve

Clint Eastwood has perfected the role of the old curmudgeon character in recent years while he has also become one of the best directors with his skill in storytelling.  However, he has struggled in combining the roles and one or the other tends to suffer.  Robert Lorenz oversees all aspects of the films produced by Clint Eastwood and for "Trouble with the Curve" they worked with first time writer, Randy Brown.

Gus (Clint Eastwood) is a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves that much like "Moneyball" suggests that the old ways of recruiting are not the way of the future.  This opinion is lead by Phillip (Matthew Lillard), a young scout with aspirations of becoming the General Manager someday and would like to see Gus retire.  Fortunately his friend, Pete (John Goodman), the head of scouting department gives Gus one more opportunity to scout a prospect for the upcoming draft.  Pete recognizes that Gus may have more issues then he is letting on and asks Gus's estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to go with him. Mickey decides to put her work on hold to go with him and she wants him to explain why he pushed her away. While the two of them are scouting a kid they meet Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a scout from the Boston Red Sox.  As Mickey lets her guard down, her and Johnny develop a relationship giving her the courage to confront her father about why he abandoned her as a child.

Handing over the duties to direct allowed Clint Eastwood to explore the grizzled and tired old man with an estranged daughter hiding the emotions of what has happened in the past to protect the innocence of a bright future for his daughter.  His performance is truly brilliant and is only complimented by the youthful charm of Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake.  Unfortunately, the script left more to desire as it was filled with cliche after cliche (what else do you think the title of the film implies) of finding the diamond in the rough proving that the sure thing isn't always the brightest in the bunch.  Leaving so much of the troubled relationship between Gus and Mickey a mystery didn't translate into an emotional delivery when the answers are finally revealed. 

With the cast I wanted to enjoy the film more, and the performances gave me what I had hoped.  However, the script was lacking and the secondary story of Mickey and Johnny just isn't necessary.  Ultimately the film meets the criteria of a 3 Quack film.

2012 a Year in Review

click on the film listed to navigate to the review

The Dark Knight Rises (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Argo (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Lincoln (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
The Sessions (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Silver Linings Playbook (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Seven Psychopaths (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
End of Watch (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Your Sister's Sister (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Moonrise Kingdom (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Headhunters (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Perks of Being a Wallflower (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Rampart (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Hitchcock (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Django Unchained (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Life of Pi (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Promised Land (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Zero Dark Thirty (Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack)

Being Flynn (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Lawless (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Hunger Games (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Killer Joe (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
People Like Us (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
The Avengers (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Ted (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Savages (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
The Master (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Looper (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Cloud Atlas (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Skyfall (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
The Deep Blue Sea (Quack Quack Quack Quack)
Hunger Games (Quack Quack Quack Quack)

Men In Black III (Quack Quack Quack)
Friends with Kids (Quack Quack Quack)
Dark Shadows (Quack Quack Quack)
Another Happy Day (Quack Quack Quack)
Salmon Fishing in Yemen (Quack Quack Quack)
Man on a Ledge (Quack Quack Quack)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Quack Quack Quack)
21 Jump Street (Quack Quack Quack)
Safety Not Guaranteed (Quack Quack Quack)
Contraband (Quack Quack Quack)
This is 40 (Quack Quack Quack)
Bernie (Quack Quack Quack)
The Five-Year Engagement (Quack Quack Quack)
Gangster Squad (Quack Quack Quack)
Quartet (Quack Quack Quack)
Killing Them Softly (Quack Quack Quack)

Rock of Ages (Quack Quack)
Snow White and the Huntsmen (Quack Quack)

1 QUACKS (Beav'Trash Nominee)
Mirror Mirror (Quack)

I have just been more selective of which movies I went to this year, but the bad films are out there and you know who you are!!!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

London Boulevard

For the directorial debut from William Monahan, the accomplished writer of "the Departed" (2006) that won him an Academy Award, he has adapted the novel of the same name written by Ken Bruen for the big screen.  "London Boulevard" made the rounds in 2011 at the festivals but never received the wide release in the US.  The film is a take on the 1950 film noir classic "Sunset Boulevard", however very little of the British take meets the style of a true noir. 

The story involves Mitchel (Colin Farrell) who just got out of jail and wants to stay legitimate but is willing to hurt someone before they hurt him.  His friends involved in the messy London underground fear him and want him to join them again but Mitchel tries his best to stay away.  He gets himself a job as a bodyguard for an actress Charlotte (Keira Knightley) to keep away the paparazzi.  When a homeless man that he has become friends with is murdered, he seeks revenge only to be crossed by Gant (Ray Winstone), a mob boss, who forces Mitchel to work for him. While working together Mitchel and Charlotte fall in love, which becomes the weak point that Gant intends to exploit.
I didn't really know what to expect from the film and I wasn't exactly surprised either.  I like Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley, but together they are awkward as a couple lacking any true chemistry.  The clichéd story of the ex-con going straight is fine by itself and is clouded by relationship between Mitchel and Charlotte that isn't necessary and should have been focused more on his sister (Anna Friel).

The performance from Colin Farrell is exactly what we have come to expect with intensity that captures the audience.  The supporting cast is equally impressive with Ray Winstone delivering his most frightening villain; David Thewlis as Jordan a former actor with a dark side is confusing at first and hits his stride in the final act and distances himself from his character in the Harry Potter series. 

Overall, the film works well and delivers perfectly in the end with an ending that quickly unfolds and has a slight twist.  I think that the film could have done well in the US if it was given a chance and is a respectful 3 Quacks. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Killing Them Softly

At the beginning of the year I put together a list of books to read that were being adapted for the big screen and figured that with a cast that includes Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, and Ray Liotta would be a can't miss hit.  Andrew Dominik follows the success of "The Assassination of Jesse James" (2007) as the writer and director of the adaptation of George Higgins' novel.  "Killing Them Softly" is a crime thriller that is overloaded with dialogue and was a difficult read.

The story is almost too simple and without the overwhelming amount of dialogue the film would come in at well under an hour and could be a TV drama.  The film starts with footage from political speeches discussing the economic crisis and then cuts to three amateurs planning to holdup a card game run by the local mob.  The card game is managed by Markie (Ray Liotta), who has a history with the mob.  Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is a hitman that is sent to track down those responsible for the card game being robbed.  He brings in a friend Mickey (James Gandolfini) to finish the job only to find that he is a wreck boozing and womanizing anything that he can get his hands on.  As Jackie learns who is responsible he communicates with the mob bosses middle man (Richard Jenkins). 

I really wanted to like the film more, but it was too similar to the book in ways I was hoping would be different.  Instead the film is overloaded with dialogue and lacking any character development to care what happens.  Andrew Dominik lays his intentions with the film on thick from the beginning with images of the yet to be elected presidential campaign poster for Barack Obama and the message for change.  A different secondary story arc could have made the film better, but unfortunately falls flat as just a 3 Quack film.  I wish I could say more about the film, but after listening to the endless dialogue there just isn't anything worth saying. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Broken City

Allen Hughes is one half of the well known Hughes Brothers who created "Book of Eli" (2010), "Dead Presidents" (1995) and "Meance II Society" (1993).  Working with first time writer Brian Tucker, is the crime thriller "Broken City" that is one part crime noir and another part political thriller in the city that never sleeps, New York is full of activity and noise.

The film opens with officer Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) breathing heavily and lost in the moment of a shooting incident.   He is cleared of all charges and is informed by Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) that there is evidence that if it became public knowledge they would all be fucked and it is important that that remain unfucked.  Fast forward seven years and Billy Taggart is a private eye who is hired by Mayor Hostetler to investigate his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) the week leading up to the election.  The Mayor thinks that his wife is having an affair with the campaign manager (Kyle Chandler) of his rival Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper).

Allen Hughes works well with the film noir style using various camera angles and plays with the depth in every scene.  The writing however is very heavy handed employing too much schtick and the name choices are very laughable.  The mayoral candidate that opposes the corrupt incumbent is Jack Valiant, but there isn't much that is likeable in the weak character that may or may not be gay.  Additionally, the police commissioner being named Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) and working for what is right in a corrupt city is worthy of an eye roll along with a competing private investigator being named Dick Mudock as a play on the common nickname for a PI. 

However, back to the script that had a decent story to work with.  It keeps you interested, but has some holes in it that are quite simply ignored.  Billy Taggart is completely drunk at an after party for his girlfriends film debut, which was a side story that never has a resolution, but then receives a phone call and reports to a crime scene where he is now completely sober.  There was also a hole in exactly what the relationship between Billy and his assistant Katy (Alona Tal) have, which in the end you are expecting them to kiss, but will they. 

The film is fast moving and suspenseful, but with the quality of other films currently in the theaters it isn't high on my list of current recommendations.  If you have already seen everything else and have a craving for some buttery popcorn then it is perfect as a 3 Quack film. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kill the Irishman

I watched this film based on a strong recommendation from a friend.  Having watched the trailer I was still interested in the story of Irish American mobster Danny Greene that was adapted from the book written by Rick Porrello.  The film is written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh who is best known for writing the "Young Indiana Jones" series and for directing "The Punisher" (2004).

The cast is very well put together with Ray Stevenson as Danny Greene and his gang including Vinnie Jones and Vincent D'Onofrio who battles against the loan shark Christopher Walken and the Italian Mafia represented by Paul Sorvino.  The police presence comes from Val Kilmer who also gives the voice over narrative of the story hinting that the demise of Danny Greene is imminent.  The way the Cleveland mob worked wasn't what you recognize from most films as you see more car bombs than you do shootouts.

The story is based on true events about how Danny Greene gained power first in a local chapter of the International Longshoremen's Association, where he was elected president in the early 1960s.  Greene pushed into Cleveland rackets and after being arrested he became an FBI informant, but the film barely depicts this other than showing a couple phone calls.  I thought that it would have been a bigger part of the  story, but instead the film focuses on a loan that Danny refuses to repay and the repercussions with the mafia. 

The acting in the film is very well done, with Ray Stevenson giving a performance that is certainly among the best for the year as he manages to keep his character really violent, but also likable.  Unfortunately the script holds him back and with the voice over narrative by Val Kilmer, it is a prime example of laziness in telling the story. 

I wanted to like this film more, but ultimately the script prevented the film from capturing what I had hoped.  It is fine as a rental, but not much beyond that and earns only a 3 Quack rating.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

The events of September 11, 2001 will never be forgotten, but for many a small amount of healing occurred on May 2, 2011 when SEAL Team Six raided Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.   Kathryn Bigelow directs the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man.  Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow follow up on the success of "The Hurt Locker" with one of the most anticipated films of the year.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a procedural film on the same level as "Argo", but better.  The film begins with the audio from the victims of acts of terror including the events of 9/11 and cuts to Pakistan in 2003 with CIA operatives Dan (Jason Clarke) and Maya (Jessica Chastain) interrogating a Saudi terrorist.  By immediately addressing the controversial torture and interrogation methods used to obtain information the film it immerses the audience into something that is raw, immediate and visceral.  To leave it out would whitewash history. 

The film follows the career of Maya as she works to find Osama bin Laden and the challenges she encounters from her supervisors Joseph (Kyle Chandler), George (Mark Strong) and colleagues Jack (Harold Perrineau) and Jessica (Jennifer Ehle).  Maya investigates a lead for the next five years on a messenger, determined to use him to find Osama bin Laden.  She survives the 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing as well as an attack on her life by armed men.  Following her lead the CIA locates the messenger and a large suburban compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden could be using as a hideout.  After being delayed by the politics of the decision regarding the accuracy of the information obtained the CIA Director, Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini) and the President give the approval to raid the compound.  Joel Edgerton and Chriss Pratt, members of The SEAL Team Six, follow the orders and history is what we know of it. 

The performances were amazing from everyone with Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke standing out the most and very deserving of a Best Actress and Supporting Actor nomination.  The directing and writing is not only the best of the year, but is amongst the best of all time.  There are so many actors involved with the film that there are too many to identify.  A few notable faces in the crowd include Mark Duplass, from "The League" and several films released this year, and John Barrowman, best known as Captain Jack Harkness from "Dr. Who" and "Torchwood", both working for the CIA.

The film puts you in the room with the men and women that experienced the events without being bogged down by headlines and facts. While the Middle East is foreign to the vast majority, Kathryn Bigelow finds a way to make it natural and familiar to the audience.  Without hesitating this is a 5 Quack film and after watching the movie I intend to listen to my Tony Robbins tapes because I have big plans for the new year.

Best line at the Golden Globes "I haven't paid much attention, but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


It seems like the popular thing to do for actors is to eventually take their turn behind the camera as the director.  Dustin Hoffman has been acting for nearly five decades, but makes his directorial debut with "Quartet".  The film is based on the play of the same title by Ronald Harwood.  The film has made it to just about every festival this fall from TIFF to Austin and will receive a wider release this weekend.  

The story takes place at Beecham House, a home for retired opera singers and musicians, during the weeks leading up to the annual concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi's birthday.  The house is filled with seniors with arthritis, dementia and various medical conditions.  The gala event is being organized by famous director Cedric (Michael Gambon) who that thinks more of himself than others, but struggles with memory loss.  The main piece of the Verdi gala are long time friends Cissy (Pauline Collins), Reggie (Tom Courtenay) and Wilfred (Billy Connolly) who are trying to figure out what piece to perform.  When Reggie's ex-wife Jean (Maggie Smith), an eternal diva, arrives at Beecham House the idea of performing the great Quartet that they were known for seems like a natural decision.  Unfortunately, Jean is struggling with accepting old age and refuses to sing and tarnish her reputation.  Old rivalries and theatrical temperaments resurface and it becomes unclear if the show will or will not go on. 

It is nice to see the typecast parents and grandparents in so many other films finally cast in a film specific for them.  And having them curse and be raunchy old men flirting with the young doctors just feels natural.  The performances from the entire cast were brilliant and compliment the timeless beauty of the music perfectly.  The writing is witty and provides just the right amount of humor.  Frequently when a movie is based on a play the tempo of the film feels flat and staged, but with the talented actors and vision of Dustin Hoffman it never feels flat. 

While the film isn't perfect, it succeeds in everything that it attempts to do.  Where it lacks is in appealing to a wider audience as the film even acknowledges that opera was once for the people but was taken over by the rich and ruined by the fancy dress and theaters.  Opera is when someone is stabbed in the back and then sings about how they feel.  In contrast, rap or hip-hop is about being stabbed in the back and then talking about it, sometimes even with rhythm and feeling. 

Regardless of how music is created it will live on after us; it keeps us young and inspires us.  The love that someone has for music can be infectious.  You should go see this film, because the alternative is to be the guest of honor at the crematorium.  For 3 Quacks it is worth seeing and you will be impressed by the performances. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gangster Squad

Ruben Fleischer is a director that is known for comedy, but gives the crime drama a try with "Gangster Squad".  The film is inspired by the book written by Paul Lieberman about the LAPD taking on organized crime in the 1940s and 50s.  The film received some attention earlier in the year when Warner Bros. decided to re-film a scene in response to the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting and bumped the release from September 2012 to January 2013.

The film focuses on the vendetta held by Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) against LA Mafia figure Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).  At the direction of LAPD Chief (Nick Nolte), O'Mara forms an elite team of misfits to go after organized crime and drive them out of Los Angeles and win the war for the soul of LA.  As the team is put together, I couldn't help but be reminded of "Ocean's Eleven" in that the elite team has a wire man, Con Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi); a gun man, Max Kenanrd (Robert Patrick); the face, Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling); Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie); and the tag along, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena).  The Gangster Squad operates off the books with illegal wiretaps to gain information about the El Dorado Trust that Mickey is building to become the central sports book on the west coast.  Mickey doesn't believe that what he is doing is a crime, but instead progress sounding like the Joker from "The Dark Knight".

Complimenting the period well is Emma Stone who portrays Grace Faraday who belongs to Mickey Cohen, but is desired by Jerry Wooters.  She came to LA to be in the movies, but is trapped in the lifestyle that she wishes to escape from.

Having read the book I was actually happy to see that the film is only inspired by the book.  The book has no true narrative, but instead is a collection of stories and events that took place between the LAPD and Mickey Cohen, Jack Dragna and others. Only a few of the scenes from the film actually come from the book with the most glaring difference being how Mickey Cohen is actually arrested.  In the film he is arrested for murdering Jack Whalen (Sullivan Stapleton) but he was actually arrested for tax evasion.  Also missing from the book is the significance of Jack Whalen and the media involvement with TV interviews and the TV show "Dragnet".  While the movie isn't perfect it does at least have a narrative and a plot that is fitting of Hollywood with a catch phrase by the villain "Here comes Santy Clause" as he shoots through a Christmas tree at John O'Mara. 

The performances from each of the stars are exactly what you expect from them.  While none of them really stand out, it is still an enjoyable film that keeps you entertained.  The writing is sloppy and results in more than one laughable moment when the story should be taken more seriously.  The story relies too much on a voice-over narrative from Josh Brolin at the beginning and conclusion of the film.  I am not a fan of this technique as I feel it is lazy.  The film attempts to fill the film noir genre, but doesn't execute as well as it could and falls out as just a 3 Quack film.

Monday, January 7, 2013


I knew nothing about the true story, but found the documentary style film from Richard Linklater telling the story of Bernie Tiede to be interesting as a dark comedy even when it was difficult to become emotionally connected with any of those involved in Carthage, Texas.  The story is told through a series of interviews with the townspeople along with flashbacks. 

Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is a funeral director and mortician, who takes pride in his work by being involved with every aspect of the funeral from selling the casket to singing during the ceremony and following up with the widows unnecessarily.  Bernie strikes up a relationship with the rich Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) who is hated within the community ever since her husband passed away.  They become companions in both daily routines and expensive vacations.  However, Bernie gets pushed too far by the controlling and emotionally abusive Marjorie and shoots her in the back four times with a rifle in a fit of rage after being named the sole beneficiary in her will.  Bernie then started giving gifts to several friends in Carthage using Nugent's money. 

Among those interviewed, only her stockbroker (Richard Robichaux) and Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey), the local district attorney, are unsympathetic toward the sunny, sometimes saccharine Bernie.  The performance from Matthew McConaughey quickly reminds me of "Lincoln Lawyer", but not in a good way.  He is comfortable in the legal environment but the rest of the performance is uninspired. 

Without knowing what happens to Bernie it was weird hearing all of the interviews refer to him and Marjorie in the past tense.  While the performance from Jack Black is very unique the film as a whole is just lacking an element that wants you to care for him and the outcome of the legal proceedings.  Ultimately, the exaggerated performance overshadows the rest of the film and I only can give the film 3 Quacks.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Five Year Engagement

Funny man director Nicholas Stoller has been associated with R-rated comedy from his start with "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008) and "Get Him to the Greek" (2010) and continues with "The Five-Year Engagement" with one of his best friends and co-writer Jason Segel.

In San Francisco, after a year's relationship, Tom (Jason Segel) proposes to Violet (Emily Blunt); she accepts.  Then the rest of the movie happens as their relationship is tested by their careers, times and distance.  Violet is an academic psychologist that after not being accepted for her post-doctorate at the University of California she receives an offer from the University of Michigan.  Tom is a sous chef with a prospective career as an executive chef.  Tom agrees to support the move, turning down a job as chef at a new restaurant and agreeing to postpone their wedding.  When two years in Michigan become four, Tom's frustrations boil over.

While the relationship between Tom and Violet is stalling, her sister Suzie (Alison Brie) hooks up with Tom's best friend Alex (Chris Pratt) and they get married with a baby on the way.  Watching the transformation of Tom from a high-end chef to a lazy and unmotivated slacker is reflective of the psychological experiment that Violet performs for her research.  It is laughable how ugly they are able to make Jason Segel, as his hair is wildly gruff when he becomes a hunter and brings that lifestyle extremely over the top with every aspect of the house involving the deer.

The  performance from everyone were absolutely on the mark creating perfect chemistry between friends, partners, and colleagues.  I especially enjoyed Chris Pratt when he said he was drinking out of Chewbacca's dick I couldn't stop laughing.  As crazy as Chris Pratt is in the film, he is perfectly complimented by Alison Brie who isn't even British yet has the accent through the film so that she can be convincing as the sister of Emily Blunt.  Having such a powerful actress as Jacki Weaver as the mother, I wanted more, but perhaps that can be saved in a sequel some day. 

While I enjoyed that the film didn't fall under the same patterns that most romantic comedies do, the film still hits most of the key elements of having a perfect couple that break-up only to find themselves together again.  The film does drag out as it takes its time in allowing Tom and Violet to find each other again.  It feels that the director knew how he wanted to start and finish the film, but that the middle was contrived resulting in just a 3 Quack film.  And of course with most R-rated comedies there are a bunch of fun quotes and on the DVD there are a lot of bonus features and deleted scenes making it worth while. 


This wasn't a film that was high on my list of must see films, but it has some actors that I really enjoy watching.  Most notably in the film is Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster.  Having some extra time over the holiday break I found time to watch the film as it was on HBO.  The film is an adaptation of a 2008 Icelandic film titled "Reykjavik-Rotterdam" written by Arnaldur Indrioason and Oskar Jonasson.  "Contraband" is directed by Baltasar Kormákur after also being involved with the original. 

The story follows many of the cliches for a heist film and lacks originality until the elements of a thriller come into the mix.  Chris Faraday (Mark Wahlberg) once smuggled illegal items into the country on freighters but has left that life behind for a beautiful family (Kate Beckinsale) and a legit profession of selling home alarms.  But when his brother-in-law got involved with Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), a drug dealer on a heist that goes bad, Briggs demands restitution which he can't deliver.  So Chris offers to find a way to pay him but the he threatens Chris' family if he doesn't deliver.  So he gets on a freighter destined for Panama and he sets out to bring back some counterfeit currency.   Chris asks his friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) to take care of his family while he is gone and of course there are several things that happen along the way. 

Almost every twist to the story was predictable and with the exception of Giovanni Ribisi there isn't very many bright moments in the film.  Much like his performance in "Rum Diary", Giovanni Ribisi plays the crazy guy extremely well.  He is so very unpredictable and continues to make me want to see just about anything he is involved with. 

As a mindless action thriller the film still receives 3 Quacks, but only if you enjoy popcorn. There really isn't much more I can say about this one, but if you find it on HBO like I did then perhaps it is worth a watch if nothing else is on.

The Deep Blue Sea

In the remake of the 1955 original Rachel Weisz takes on the role that Vivien Leigh portrayed while Tom Hiddleston reminds the American audience that he isn't just a comic book villain as he attempts to earn a nomination much like Kenneth More did both on stage and the screen.  Terence Davies is the director of the latest adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play.  As with most adaptations of plays the story feels stiff and much more suited for the stage.  However, what Terence Davies has changed in this adaptation is taking the play out of a singular room on a singular day by instead breaking the film up into memories told through flashbacks. 

"The Deep Blue Sea" tells the story of Hester (Rachel Weisz), the young wife of Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), who has engaged in an affair with Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), a WWII veteran dealing with post war symptoms.  Freddie throws Hester's life in turmoil when he discovers  Hester attempted suicide and leaves her emotionally stranded and physically isolated.

I know that I am going to die, just accept that it isn't your fault.  It really isn't Freddie, you can't help who you are and I can't help who I am.

It can be difficult to follow the film, but the performances make up for the lack of cohesion caused by the series of flashbacks.  Simon Russell Beale is brilliant in his performance grasping for answers as to why his wife would have an affair as he feels it is a tragedy.  Even more impressive is Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddelston who both demonstrate the anger, hatred and shame necessary for the role.  So far all the attention has been given to Rachel Weisz, who is very deserving for her cool, calm and collected performance.  However, Tom Hiddelston is equally deserving of a nomination. 

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between the devil and the deep blue sea.  This isn't a perfect film, but the some of the parts exceed all expectations and is worthy of a 4 Quack rating and nominations.

Additionally, the violin concerto by Samuel Barber  that is performed by Hilary Hahn and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is absolutely brilliant.

Mirror Mirror

When two films come out in the same year using the same story it is inevitable that they get compared against each other.  So the big question everyone wants to know is "which is better".  My answer is that Disney was best back in 1937.  "Mirror Mirror" is the first of the two that were released in 2012 with the other being "Snow White and the Huntsmen".  Tarsem Singh Dhandwar is the vision behind "Mirror Mirror" and no matter who was cast in the film I don't think the film could have been saved. 

The story is one that we all know from our childhood, with a few twists.  After the King (Sean Bean) vanishes, his wife (Julia Roberts) seizes control of the kingdom and keeps her stepdaughter, Snow White (Lily Collins), hidden away in the palace dungeon.  But when the princess attracts the attention of a charming and wealthy visiting Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), the jealous Queen banishes the girl to a nearby forest.  Taken in by a band of rebellious dwarfs, Snow White blossoms into a brave young woman determined to save her country from the Queen

Now for that comparison; I thought that Charlize Theron was more sinister as the evil Queen in "Snow White and the Huntsmen".  Lily Collins was more innocent as Snow White in "Mirror Mirror".  The inclusion of Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsmen in "Snow White and the Huntsmen" was the biggest improvement.  However, the biggest difference was how the dwarfs were handled.  While "Snow White and the Huntsmen" used higher profile actors at least the dwarfs were properly casted by little people in "Mirror Mirror" instead of the false image trickery.  Unfortunately, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar messed up the dwarfs by giving the dwarfs stilts, seriously. 

Up to this point I would actually put the two films even as to which is better, but the ending of the film featuring Lilly Collins song "I Believe In Love" with a dance routine that reminded me of a Bollywood film was absolutely abhorrent.  It was just laughable that someone was able to convince the studio to include it and is the main reason that I give the film 1 Quack.  Watch the music video below and you be the judge.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hunger Games

From the Treaty of Treason: In penance for their uprising, each district shall offer up a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 at a public "reaping".  These tributes shall be delivered to the custody of the Capitol.  And then transferred to a public arena where they will Fight to the Death until a lone victor remains.  Henceforth and forevermore this pageant shall be known as "The Hunger Games".

The first book from the best-selling series was adapted for the big screen by Gary Ross, who previously was known for "Seabiscuit" (2003) and "Pleasantville" (1998), captures the realness of the dystopian future world of "The Hunger Games".  Much like the books, the movie captures the urgent and compelling  and relentless narrative of 24 children that are thrust into circumstances that are so overwhelming that ultimately changes and defines them. 

The totalitarian nation of Panem is divided between 12 districts and the Capitol.  Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games.  The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors while the citizens of Panem are required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim (Willow Shields), is selected as District 12's female representative, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives.

Katniss is trained by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the escort that selects the tributes and brings them to the Capitol; Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a previous champion that provides survival gifts; and her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).  The face of the Capitol is President Snow (Donald Sutherland) while the head game maker is Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley).  The games are hosted by Caesar (Stanley Tucci) and announced by Claudius (Toby Jones).  As you can see there are a lot of characters that don't even include the 24 tributes competing in the Hunger Games.  It can be a bit confusing exactly who each are, but once the games have started the intensity of the film really picks up. 

The performances by everyone are superb, however the connection between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson didn't work for me.  I understand that Katniss is more interested in Gale (Liam Hemsworth), but there isn't anything to cheer for with regards to the relationship.  Since seeing Jennifer Lawrence in "Winters Bone" (2010) and "Like Crazy" (2011) there was no doubt that she would excel in the lead role.  For fans of her, you can also find her in "X-Men: First Class" and in theaters now "Silver Linings Playbook".  She is clearly one of the best young actresses in her 20s and I look forward to seeing what else she can do with "Catching Fire" in 2013. 

And the winners of the 74th Annual Hunger Games receive 4 Quacks.  The film captures a Roman gladiator feel while also giving a Shakespearian quality of star-crossed lovers including the idealic ending with Katniss and Peeta willing to sacrifice themselves.  Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds forever be in your favor. 

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