Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Film Review: Two Bit Waltz

If this had been billed as a student film, I might have tolerated it a bit better.  Sadly, this first-foray by Clara Mamet (daughter of David Mamet) is just not smooth enough to be considered off-beat or quirky comedy.  The problem is that it tries too hard.

It's supposed to be autobiographical, which is even crazier.  Does David Mamet hide under his bed all day?

I'm all for absurdest humor.  I love Monty Python and have enjoyed some classic off-the-wall comedies from the UK as well as the US.  But maybe that's my problem.  Nothing seemed original.  Sure, dancing fish and ballerinas out of the blue does make one pause and wonder, but I was a teenager when MTV was born.  Oddball videos were a part of my upbringing, so I have seen this all before.

Sometimes a film is funnier to those involved in making it than it is to the audience.  I have a feeling the cast and crew laughed themselves silly, but maybe because it was a lot of fun to do something silly, quirky and just a bit odd.  Unfortunately, this didn't translate into the finished product.  The audience wasn't privy to on set antics, so what we're left with is an essentially, flat, static image of oddball things being played out in front of us.

Had the cinematography been more fluid, perhaps a moving camera that picked up the flow of the action, maybe it would have been more interesting and I might have felt a bit more involved.  The camera was fixed in most scenes as things danced by (or danced within the frame).  Clara Mamet directed this piece, and one has to wonder if the fixed camera made it easier for her to direct herself, rather than worry about what the camera would be doing had it been in motion.

To be fair I walked out half-way through, so I my commentary is really about the first 45 minutes. I do not know what decision, if any, Maude made about college, or whether she had an epiphany that changed the mood of the film.  Quite frankly, I didn't care enough to sit through to the end to find out.

I waited a week before posting this review to see what other critiques there were online and so far found nothing.  I have no idea what the release date is, if any, so perhaps I just have to wait a little longer to hear what others think.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Film Review: Whiplash

It's been a while, and I think that's because I only seem to write in this blog when a film or TV show touches me emotionally or causes me to think.  Whiplash is one of those films.

I have heard the OSCAR buzz about it and while I do think it has a chance with its powerful performances, I'm wondering how people feel about J.K. Simmons' character of Fletcher. I hated him.

I totally get the tough-love approach to getting people to do their best.  When I was a kid in school that was the way to do it.  A teacher or a coach could be mean, be nasty and push buttons to get the kids to do their best, much like a drill sergeant in the army.  It's not like today's "good job" coaching where everyone wins.  I realize why it's not done as much, because in some cases it's akin to bullying.

My view is that while I am on the fence with tough coaching (when it works and it's done right, go for it, but think about the psyche of the people you're using it on), I think Fletcher, while saying his motivation was to bring out the best in people, is a bit extreme in his practices.  In one scene he kicks out a note-perfect trombone player from his band probably because he felt the student was too weak and sensitive, when he didn't punish the real off-note saxophonist for what he was going after in the first place, knowing the difference between being in tune and not.  And the saxophonist was not in tune, but he didn't punish him.  What kind of lesson was that?  Playing favorites?  Do you think the saxophonist felt guilty or responsible for the ouster of the other student?  If he did, he didn't show it.

And yet, I'm reading in reviews that Fletcher should be applauded for his efforts.  Did I miss the point?  He wasn't too extreme?

I like J.K. Simmons.  If he wins an OSCAR, that's fantastic.  If the film does well, that's great as the characters are well defined and the music is great.  I just wonder if we are all reading Fletcher the same way.  Is he a hero or a villain?  Should he be applauded?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Belated review: The Ides of March

Call me a cynic, but this film didn't grab me at all.  I guess it's really designed for people who are a bit more involved in politics or have strong ideals about their candidates.  For me it was just a fictionalized account of events that have happened in politics within the past few years.  The only shocking thing was the ending which felt like it was saying, "Hey look, this is what it's like.  Life goes on."

I had expected more from this film.  I thought it would be more of a thriller with twists and turns, but it didn't thrill me at all.  The acting was great, but the plot fizzled for me.

Personally, I think I'm more of a realist than a cynic, since I do lean toward positivity.

Belated Review: Moneyball

Good film, though I had expected more from it.  The trailer made it seem like Brad Pitt's character, Billy Beane, was the one with the ideas, although he's the one who brings in Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who helps make a considerable difference to the team.

It was a nice film, and a true story worth telling.

Belated Review: The A-Team and SWAT

Showing my age here...  I used to watch SWAT when I was a kid and I loved it.  I also watched The A-Team, and while I watched it every week and was a big Stephen J. Cannell fan, I didn't love the show as much as his others (Hardcastle & McCormick and Riptide).

The A-Team:

I have to admit, I was ambivalent about seeing this film.  I'm not crazy about all the remakes of TV shows out there.  I think Hollywood needs to come up with some original ideas and stop reviving old films and TV shows (or copying from each other).

When a friend told me she liked it, I decided to give it a chance.  Unfortunately, I don't share her enthusiasm.  It just didn't gel for me.  What made the show work was the banter and the charm.  This film was all cockiness with a couple of inside jokes here and there.  There was no cohesion for me.  It was just a big mess.


Conversely, I liked SWAT.  I loved the old show, so I was expecting this one to disappoint. It didn't.  The characters were strong, the plot credible and the flow was really nice.  I only watched the film to catch the cameo by Steve Forrest (which was great, bye the way.  Just as the camera is panning up the front of the truck, I asked myself, "Who's driving?" and there he was behind the wheel.  Perfect!)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Belated Positive Reviews

Here's a list of films I recommend seeing:

Girl Rising - documentary about the importance of education for girls in poorer countries and how girls give back to their communities

The Iceman - based on the life of mob hitman Richard Kuklinski.  It was a compelling film with some minor plot holes, but still captured my interest.

Attack - a film by a Lebanese director about a Palestinian man who is a successful doctor in Israel.  Everything is going great until he finds out that his wife was a suicide bomber.

Reluctant Fundamentalist - another terrorist film, only this one is about a man who is accused of being the mastermind of a terror cell, but he insists he's an innocent victim.  Is he telling the truth?

Kon Tiki - the true story of a group of men who (in 1947) set out to prove whether a balsa wood raft made it across the pacific in ancient times.  It well done, and I loved how they filmed it in English as well as in Dutch.

Disconnect - Some people didn't like this one, but I did.  I think it was poignant, and very relevant tale about how cyberspace is affecting our lives.

Angel's Share - I wasn't sure about it when it started out, but then it turned into a really fun film.  It's crime caper about an ex-con who tries to put his life back together when he devises a money making plan when he discovers a rare keg of whisky is to be auctioned in Scotland.


East - a film about eco-terrorists that was interesting, but had me scratching my head in parts.  An ex-FBi agent working for a private intelligence firm goes undercover in the eco-terrorist group, knowing she's going to be sneaking around in the dark, and yet she wears a hoodie with a white crocheted trim.  Ooookaay.

Belated review: Silver Lining's Playbook

I know I've been remiss at posting reviews.  I have seen a few good films lately, but I find myself more interested in exploring the why's and wherefores of films I didn't completely love.  I'm not being facetious or negative. Just the opposite.  In fact I know I should post all my positive reviews and I will do it in the next posting.  Right now I'm motivated by one thing:

Why was Silver Lining's Playbook awarded so many accolades?

Again, I'm not trying to poke fun or be negative.  I'm just trying to understand what stood out.  Was it the fact that Pat and Tiffany were able to go against the odds and find love with each other?  Was it the shocking condition that Pat had?  Were we supposed to feel sorry for him or laugh about it?  Was it because De Niro was in it?  Was it because Jackie Weaver was in it?

I'll tell you what I liked about this movie.  First, my most favorite scene is when Pat's father confides in him about wanting them to spend time together, getting to know each other again while watching the game.  That brought tears to my eyes (and still does).

Second, I loved the "5 points" at the dance competition.  I don't know if anyone else thought Pat's dad was talking about the basketball game.  I know I did.  So it was a pleasant surprise when they all cheered when Pat and Tiffany got a score of 5 in the dance competition.  I laughed at that one.

Third, the acting overall was great.  I was pleased to see Jackie Weaver in it, as I know of her work in Australian films long before Animal Kingdom (rent Cosi.  She's fantastically funny in it).

I read a negative review that said the acting rose above the weak script, and I have to agree.  If it wasn't for the characterizations, I probably wouldn't have watched it all the way through.

And that's what didn't work. The story didn't grab me.  The characters were all great, but the plot didn't capture my attention.  I love ballroom dancing, and the idea of training for a dance competition would normally interest me, but this didn't.  Maybe it was because I knew they weren't any good just by watching them practice. Usually you see the progression, the sense of improvement, and they didn't improve, which was the point, but it didn't motivate me otherwise.

I found Tiffany a bit annoying at first, partly because her actions were a bit too familiar.  I can't place where I've seen her type of interplay with Pat before, but I have.

Also, I felt like I was watching a sequel to the film Cutting Edge, but instead of it taking place in an ice rink, it took place in a ballroom.  What ironic about this thought is that when I saw Cutting Edge the first time it was at a friend's place just after we had watched Strictly Ballroom.  I enjoyed both films, but since I saw them back to back, I often affectionately call Cutting Edge, "Strictly Ballroom on Ice."

Now I can call Silver Lining's Playbook, "Cutting Edge on a dance floor."  Ba-dum-dum!

Any thoughts?