Rewind Review: Flipped (2010)

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Flipped (2010)

Flipped is likely a film that has gone unnoticed by many. It has had a weird distribution schedule considering Rob Reiner is its director and its coming from Warner Bros. It hit a few screens, very few, on August 3rd and made a wider release without much fanfare on August 27th. It’s quite unfortunate too because this is great little heartfelt film that is sure to have an emotional resonance with audiences of all ages. Hopefully, once it hits video more people find out about it.

Flipped while telling a seemingly simple story of a protracted relationship between neighbors Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) and Juli (Madeline Carroll)  it tells the tale from the perspective of both the male and the female, here we get the truest illustration of the now cliché that men are from Mars and women are from Venus as they are rarely on the same page. However, their perspective on each of the major events of the tale is very interesting indeed.

While it does seem at first like it is a narrative device which is being used simply for you to get to know the characters it quickly becomes the signature of the film. It is slightly unconventional and so it may not be an unusual reaction to be waiting for a more traditional narrative structure to take hold but eventually I did find myself awaiting the visual flip in which the story switch to the alternate narrator for a chapter and part of what becomes so engaging about it is that you start to identify at some points with either side of the seemingly star-crossed lovers.

Flipped (2010, Castle Rock Entertainment)

It therefore becomes a very emotionally involving experience and to an extent and intellectually stimulating one whereas you see a scene play out and know the opposing party will have their own version of the events and you wonder what that might be.

A great surprise that this film has in store is at the end when their feelings are mutual is when the narrative divide is crossed and they speak in the same segment both of them telling the story. It is a wonderful break from the myopic views as they now are sharing a moment they’ll both remember with equal fondness.

The film in the latter stages does become manage to become very moving and by then the characters have been built so well you want for them and might even feel your eyes stinging with tears.

What is most fitting about the ending is that it is done telling the tale and that is all. There is no “happily ever after” it can be implied if you wish it or not the story at hand was about the beginning not the end so why venture a guess.

Flipped (2010, Castle Rock Entertainment)

In the end the ebb and flow of the film was quite satisfying and there was likely something most people could relate to regardless of the construct of this particular tale or the period it is set in.

This film being a period piece was a decision that Rob Reiner came to and one that was not suggested by the novel and it was a good decision as the story itself does ring a bit more true being set in the past than it would in the modern-day. Particularly due to the connection that Bryce’s grandfather (John Mahoney) and Juli have. While this does allow for a few things that make you wonder if they are accurate like dinner table conversations about salmonella and the prices of things it is ultimately a change for the good.

What is perhaps most interesting in this film in that because it has two protagonist/narrators thus it focuses on two family units and it does manage to give us some understanding as who all these characters are and allows for great dramatic scenes amongst the family units.

Flipped (2010, Castle Rock Entertainment)

The cast is impeccable all the way to the smallest player like Juli’s older brothers who not only look the part of aspiring doo wop singers but sing the part as well. However, the glue that holds the film together can be found in its young leads Callan McAuliffe, who not only convincingly plays a somewhat naive well-intentioned boy but also has no remaining trace of his Australian accent throughout and Madeline Carroll who is like a young Ellen Page.

This is a throughly enjoyable, heartfelt, funny and endearing film that you should make an effort to see.

7/10

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Short Film Saturday: Cataplexy

Typically, in a short film one is looking for an idea that fits the form and tells a complete story. It’s hard to find a better example than this film. Not to mention that the film does allude to the possibility of a larger story, but for the fragment it decides to tackle it handles it fairly perfectly.

Follow the link below to view the film.

Cataplexy (2010)

Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Five)

Note: What follows is a full analysis of the entire film, all other parts of this essay are fairly spoiler-free with regards to the film but this is not. You’ve been warned.

Maximum Overdrive begins with a title insert basically stating that the earth will be stuck in the tail of a rogue comet for about a week. The insert seems a extraneous to me and takes away from the story to a certain extent, however, King may have stated his reasoning in an earlier writing “…any horror film (with the possible exception of the German expressionist films of the teens and twenties) has got to at least pay lip service to credibility” (Danse, 156). One will note that even Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street give their slashers traumatic pasts they must exorcise. In this film the explanation comes early and removes a necessary suspense element I feel would’ve helped the story out. One may also notice that the picture of the earth used in this sequence is backwards meaning Egypt now looks out on the Atlantic. I don’t know how no one caught that.
    

The film is set in Wilmington, North Carolina for the duration of the story. The only other time King set a tale in the south was The Green Mile. He’s set tales in Nevada, Pennsylvania and had a few go across some states but usually relied on atmosphere or people he could sketch reasonably well, which is Maine. The characters in this tale while are sometimes sketched and drawn out by King, to the extent he could with the limitations of the film but they’re acted like caricatures in most cases.
 (Note: This geographic note was correct upon the original writing. Since then King has taken to wintering in Florida, thus his fiction goes there sometimes too).    

We first see the way that the comet affects machinery on the streets of Wilmington.  First, we see a news ticker over a bank that constantly displays the phrase “Fuck You.” Then we get the early King cameo in which, he’s a bumpkin who’s called an “Asshole” by his ATM machine, this is humorous but nowhere near as good as his role as Jordy Verrill in Creepshow.  These small details may add a bit of eeriness to the beginning but as is the theme throughout this film we get a lot more humor than fright. In this sequence all the laughs are intended.

After this we get what might be one of the more frightening sequences of the film, unfortunately no one really escapes this scene unharmed. There is no protagonist who makes their way out of this wreckage and moves on to where a bulk of the action takes place. Instead, what we get is quite an effective crash scene that shows that all machinery can now think and the drawbridge lifts even though all the cars got the green light. The bridgemaster and his assistant look befuddled and the bridge is a disaster area. Everyone is stuck at the base of the lifted bridge. A motorcycle rider flies off the edge, this is the source of the big continuity error one man slides of his motorcycle and we see him seemingly go in two directions, and also go out the gap which hasn’t opened as big as camera angles would have us believe later. This huge mistake is also surprising considering Evan A. Lottman, who edited The Exorcist and Sophie’s Choice worked on this film. This scene is somewhat freaky but is also a little extraneous.
    

We then cut and see the Happy Toyz truck, it’s adorned with a huge demon face on the grill and has a slogan emblazoned across its broadside (“Here Comes a Load of Joy,” King’s ability to come up with clever and humorous slogans is uncanny). It is driven by Andy (J. Don Ferguson) who stops at the Dixie Boy Truck Stop. We get our first good shot here it comes when Andy’s talking to one of the gas jockeys, it’s a medium from the inside of the truck and we get a hint that soon there’s going to be some trouble.
 

We’re introduced to our protagonist next, Billy played by Emilio Estevez in his first role outside of “The Brat Pack.” Someone should have told Emilio that it is very difficult to flex your acting muscles and make a name of yourself from one horror film. Inside the Dixie Boy we now see that the pinball, coffee and cigarette machines are going crazy in the game room and we get a bad performance out of Videoplayer (Giancarlo Esposito) who is quickly killed off.

The first act’s pace is relentless as soon after Duncan (J.C. Quinn) is outside filling the Happy Toyz truck and the pump has mysteriously stopped. He removes the nozzle to check what’s going on and gets sprayed in the eye with diesel. At this moment we get our first sample of the score, the true score and not any sort of source music. While the score like so many is reminiscent of Hermann’s Psycho we only get this stabbing music on a few rare occasions. A few old AC/DC songs were used for this film along with a new one entitled “Who Made Who?” I happen to know that Stephen King is a big fan of AC/DC but I feel that he knows enough about horror to not have left most of the music track in this film dead. There is a lot of silence and it wasn’t very effective at all. AC/DC provided the wrong kind of mood with their high to medium Heavy Metal riffs. It makes me wonder if most of the budget wasn’t diverted towards pyrotechnics and Emilio’s salary further taking away from the film’s quality.
    

We’re later introduced to Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle) who shows himself to be the human villain in this tale. He is unscrupulous and uncaring. His character is quite well played. Then we see King’s first big touch when we see a headline about the comet. Prior Duncan and Joey (Pat Miller) had been talking and it was more subtle and many people won’t realize that the “Mickey Mantle” they were referring to is Deke (Holter Graham), Duncan’s son. In this film King had a little more than 90 pages and too many characters to deal with in that allotted time.
 
   
Our next two mechanical attacks work in different ways and introduce two more characters. A hand-held electric saw attacks the waitress Wanda June (Ellen McElduff) gets her forearm sliced into this is quite a gross moment and also establishes Billy as the protagonist. Then we cut to the baseball field and Deke’s team has just won and the coach is attacked by soda cans shot out of the vending machine. There is some great makeup work in this scene and it’s also pretty funny along with a shocking steamrolling shot that literally made my jaw drop. There are more characters to get to though.
    

We are in a car and getting a radio report about the odd occurrences a la Night of the Living Dead, but more subtle, and are introduced to the Bible Salesman (Christopher Murney) and Brett (Laura Harrington) a hitchhiker he has picked up. The Bible Salesman actually ends up being quite a good hypocritical character in this tale carrying a briefcase with has gold leaf on it and has “The Holy Bible” scrolled across it. Brett is going to be the love interest and this party like Deke are heading to the Dixie Boy. Laura Harrington should have gotten an Oscar…thrown at her, she was so terrible in this film. As a matter of fact the casting in this movie for the most part is rather weak; I wonder why in the closing credits the Casting Director got top billing. A director should know his actors limitations and should have reworked his characters accordingly.
  

Staying in the mode of less than satisfactory acting we switch over to Curt (John Short) and Connie who are a newlywed couple. Connie (Yeardley Smith) who went on to make a name for herself on The Simpsons as Lisa, is so annoying in this role it is nearly impossible to sympathize with her. John Short is one of the actors who ruins some of Stephen King’s great dialogue by having no idea how to deliver it. This is where King should have stepped in and altered the dialogue. It does pain a writer to change effective and intelligent dialogue for simple, pedestrian dialogue but it should be done when the actors sound stupid saying these lines.
    

Along Deke’s journey on bike to the Dixie Boy we see the wrath of the machines has left many dead bodies splayed all over the place. We get an eerie feeling again with a guitar riff for each corpse that is found. If there is one thing that can be said for this film is that all the effects are well done; as we see the trucks maneuver, drive and terrorize people. When these vehicles are on the move on their own they even drive better than real people in film they did quite an admirable job in that respect.
    

Perhaps the best dialogue King has to offer us in this film is when the Bible Salesman is trying to sell some editions in the Dixie Boy. This is also where we see Wanda June start drinking it may be the most well written scene of the film capped off by the salesman saying “This Bible has everything from the creation of this beautiful world to the fall of mankind.” This is the closest we come to seeing the implications that King had intended to impose, aside from a painting of the Last Supper we see for a few seconds, in the short story and there isn’t enough emphasis placed on this scene in my opinion. I also feel it’s a humorous commentary on how the salesman doesn’t know his scripture because all Bibles, regardless of denomination, include those tales.
    

Right before Duncan goes out to be killed we see how the blood has escaped his burned eyes. It’s a rather creepy shot that reminds me of one of King’s favorite films X – The Man with X-Ray Eyes. This death occurs in minute 32 and already we’ve seen so many characters. The Bible Salesman is later sent flying into the sewer after he charged the truck that smashed his car. King, being one who doesn’t believe in any one Christian doctrine, throwing a Bible Salesman into a gutter is a great touch. The truck that decks him also rolls over his Bible briefcase which I liked. When the body is returned to the truck stop we get another good piece of dialogue Bubba says, “He’s dripping all over my floor.” to get the people moving.
    

Stephen King also usefully employs the sewer in the attempted rescue of the Bible Salesman who we find many minutes later is clinging to life in the gutter. This provides the film with it’s only truly good looking and dark cinematography. John Short also displays his inability to deliver a great off-color line written by King in the sewer sequence (“What happened to the people who peed in this?”). The salesman we see is ultimately not worth saving when Deke finds him and the salesman says “Help me or I’ll kill you,” very Christian.
     

Just after the trucks smash a phone booth, we assume in order to effectively isolate them, and begin to angrily circle the truck stop instead of attempting to build some tension we cut away to Curt and Connie, who are chased by an eighteen-wheeler, it’s literally a cut to the chase situation. King had the opportunity to have a situational and somewhat atmospheric film but I feel that was robbed from him by producers looking to imitate many of the 80s poorer films.
    

The way in which these massive hunks of metal are fought most of the times is through gunfire, this is aided by the fact that Hendershot has a huge armory in his basement, which seems to hold everything from AK-47s to Bazookas. The only way in which the special effects fail in this film, being no ballistics expert I’m not sure, but the bazooka’s missiles are never seen in flight we only see the truck exploding. With something that big I’d go to the optical lab and add it even if it is technically inaccurate. 
    

King touches upon the flying airplane mentioned in his short story but this also comes out as comical. Once again we have a nice shot from the inside of the plane and can see the plane operating itself. It is turned humorous by the employment of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.”
    

Aside from the seemingly incessant presence of the comedy in this film we are also pestered by the lack of darkness; we are bombarded by light. “The dark, it goes without saying, provides the basis for our most primordial fear.” (Danse, 182). Cinematographer, Armando Nannuzzi, had done plenty of films in Italy for years on end and had most recently done quite an admirable job with King’s Silver Bullet. The nighttime footage in that film was effective in deemphasizing the low-budget werewolf but he seemed to thrive on the use of daylight to make some of his more impressive shots in Maximum Overdrive. In all fairness, Maximum Overdrive is a bright, pretty to look at film with sporadic good shots but it’s not quintessential horror. With the positive affect of darkness being so obvious one must wonder if budgetary concerns or perhaps weakness in the lighting department played into it. Even though much of the story is at day time in prose King must have realized he’d need more nighttime scenes for the film. He also knows that not only is it needed but the dark and night time is often heavily used in certain films. “All but approximately eighteen minutes of John Carpenter’s Halloween are set after nightfall.” (Danse, 186). Whereas after sunset we have but 17 minutes in the dark, and then we also have the interesting situation in which most of the human deaths occurred in broad daylight. In this film, the first scene to be set in a darkened place is in minute 48 and the sun only sets three minutes later more than halfway through the movie. Later on in the sequence, the truck stop also loses its power but this is not used in any sort of dramatically moving way and it comes back on before ever having taken any sort of toll on the story. And we are made well aware of it by a beautiful shot of the sunset.

Afterwards, we get the weird green effect in the sky which is larger in some areas of the sky than others. It was used at the beginning to symbolize the comet’s tail. In a poorly acted moment yet again provided by Laura Harrington, in the role of Brett, assumes the comet must be causing all this. It’s in a way also King’s most unfortunate piece of writing because the title card shown from the beginning is practically reiterated for the audience.  At night it seems that only Wanda June and Deke have been affected negatively. Billy is courting Brett, all others are unmoved by the celestial oddity. It’s very unusual that King with the understanding of character he has wouldn’t have gotten on these actors and told them they weren’t driving home the suspense and claustrophobic elements that should have been what was carrying the film.
    

Billy and Brett dominate this section of the film with their nighttime romance which I can only describe as filler. While I understand people can cling to each other in such a situation there was too much focus on the romance for my liking while I do applaud King for not being afraid to implement it. Wanda June dies an overacted death, she was completely drunk and yells the lines I least liked from King’s short story “We made you.” and if a film such as this can have a subtext she just blurted out part of it and she made this little speech more than once.

    
Another thing which constantly plagued this film was that it was very heavy with incident in the beginning and towards the middle of the film the action begins to taper off. The story becomes diverted to an extent.
    

Many times we are shown that Deke is the best drawn of all the characters. In the beginning we see him check on his injured coach, he’s then scared off by the salesman. He breaks down upon hearing about his father’s death, then the next morning has apparently regressed and is blowing bubbles. Not only that but when the trucks start beeping he not only realizes it is Morse code but translates it. What would have made this a better film was some more focus. At the end, when the great exodus of the Dixie Boy begins, we see eleven characters running, three of which I don’t think ever had their name uttered in the film but were perhaps named in the script.
    

The Morse incident is where the trucks admit that they need to be refueled. Billy’s reasoning eventually wins out. They pump gas for the truck because the dried out ones might call for one or many that can destroy them. A few more vehicles do show up including what appears to be a mini-flatbed with a machine gun set on a tripod, which in the end seems a little too beatable. During this sequence Emilio Estevez’s performance, which was nothing earth-shattering to begin with, also slips when we see him yelling at the truck, the Happy Toyz one with the Green Goblin face.
    

Towards the end we get an escape. The truck stop blows up. The Evil Truck which has been harassing the people and is the villain gets a bazooka in its open mouth. This moment is somewhat effective as we think for a moment maybe that one can’t be beat but then it explodes. We end with another annoying title card with a sappy finishing touch and some odd Soviet involvement in destroying a “weather satellite.” And the film closes on a comedic note with the last line of dialogue being Connie saying “Ooh, I think I’m gonna whoops my cookies.”
  
 
Maximum Overdrive is a film that has a few shocking and jaw-dropping moments. All the effects are well done and the cinematography is well-composed. What King ends up providing is a movie that ends up being a pretty good comedy/adventure, which is probably why he didn’t like it all that much. He should definitely give it another go because despite the bad casting there were some good performances in this film most notably those of Holter Graham as Deke and Pat Hingle as Hendershot. One thing King can be thankful for is that his film doesn’t ever tread into the so bad it’s good region.
 

Review- Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman is such an odd case. Based on the way it handles the oft told legend it has a lot of promise, however, this film has a weird handling of its two titular characters inasmuch as it seems to run from them both. At the start, yes, it is the hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) who is doing the voice over for the necessary backstory segment that kicks the narrative off, but there are a few unfortunate things about it: first, this is one of the higher points of the film and it’s a brisk, but not rushed beginning portion. Second, after this part the Huntsman is lost for a while until the queen commissions him to retrieve an escaped Snow White. Which brings us to the young princess, her dialogue is sparse throughout, her involvement until her escape is minimal and she drifts into the background more than any would-be protagonist in recent memory.

Is it just sloppy plotting and writing or is the fact that the film wanted Kristen Stewart involved for box office appeal, but didn’t want to hitch their wagon to her alone? She has a moment here and a moment there, but the big military speech falls short of what it should be and her physicality issues persist. No actress on the face of the earth has a mouth so persistently agape for no discernible reason as she does and few emote so little facially, at least in the roles I’ve seen. I’m not going to avoid seeing something merely due to her presence, but I have yet to see this other side of her that her staunch supporters keep citing.

However, as I said, the film is rarely about either of its two named characters, at times this is a good thing and at other moments it’s a failing. Charlize Theron is broad in her role as the evil queen as if she just fell out of an old Hollywood melodrama. I think that’s something most of us can agree on. I, for one, absolutely love her performance and find nary a misstep in it. At the very least someone, is bringing energy and commitment to this film, and more often than not I found her scenes rather chilling.

Much of the conversation has been about the performances thus far because there is little else holding this precarious piece of work up. The pace of the film is decent up until about the midpoint when the dwarfs are introduced and then the film gets a bit unfocused, lost and extraneous. The narrative does pick up again eventually but never recovers from this unfortunate area. This section also introduces the odd production choice of having average size actors be the faces of the dwarfs. I’m really not sure why it’s deemed necessary, and it is a distraction.

The cinematography, scoring and production design of the film were all really quality components that could’ve truly elevated this film to its potential had the narrative it was supporting been up to snuff. The beginning of the tale works best because it’s in storybook mode and frames the queen as much more of a power-hungry madwoman than say, Disney did. The stepmother queen in either tale is motivated, it’s just that this film explains the motivation a bit more. Where it develops her plot and psychology it works, but little else is substantial here at all, which is not the case of the animated version, or even some others for that matter. Where it sets up Snow White’s initial struggle it works, but it loses her along the way, as it not only fills in blanks but colors outside the lines, so to speak, and adds running time and trivially valuable sub-plotting with the love triangle that evolves. The richness it builds is soon watered down by excess.

Snow White and the Huntsman
starts with a few clear objectives but then becomes occluded and can no longer see the forest for the trees and like many travelers in this imaginary world gets lost in a dark forest, and all hopes of its being a quality piece of work perish.

5/10

Review- The Lucky One

Taylor Schilling and Zac Efron in The Lucky One (Warner Bros.)

When you have either a romantic comedy or even just a flat-out romance there will be several things you expect and very little that will surprise you. There’s not anything wrong with that, as with almost any film it’s not about the final destination but rather the journey there. Sadly, there are some issues that mar the journey in this film, which is otherwise enjoyable with likable characters for the most part.

I don’t have a great deal of experience watching Nicholas Sparks adaptations, I have only previously seen The Last Song, however, it doesn’t take long to see what one’s formula is. An any writer regardless of what your tastes are have their preferred genres and themes and certain similarities in their voice and narratives. So I was expecting certain things but I also am not yet fatigued by these adaptations, as I’ve not had to see all of them.

Now the first concern is one I can forgive, but again it’s about execution. The film tells the tale of a Marine (Zac Efron) who by chance finds a photo while in combat, his being distracted by it saves his life and it ends up being a good luck charm. Upon his return he is determined to find the girl in the photo, after failing to find out who it belonged to, and thank her. Now, we all know he won’t be able to say anything right away, that’s not usually how these stories work (it’d be a tremendously interesting experiment though) but it’s how he’s not allowed to say anything that’s really bothersome. And that’s on the heels of a pretty good and fluid sequence that illustrates some of his battlefield experiences, his search for the photo’s owner and his struggle to re-adjust to a life at home.

So after a surprisingly good and cinematic start the bungles come into play. However, as I said there are certain expectations and the cat having his tongue was one of them, at that point it’s just a minor irritant. The biggest overriding issue of the film is the ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson) both his character and his interpretation thereof. Not only is it comedically broad to start but then it gets more real and natural as the drama of the tale intensifies, so not only does it start cartoonish but it doesn’t stay here, so it’s also inconsistent. Not to mention the fact that a psycho ex, who is not only an intimidator but a cop is so old and expected. There’s enough conflict inherent in the situation that this externalization is an exaggeration. There can be an ex, he can be jealous but it really is going above and beyond such that it detracts from the end product greatly. Most of the worst scenes in terms of writing and flow are the ones he’s in, the movie picks up steam again and then right on schedule he arrives and then it’s sigh, eye roll and sit through it.

His precipitously asinine behavior extends the climax of the film unnecessarily, not that the resolution of the film is perfect. There’s a slight monkey-wrench thrown in granted but the estrangement prior to the happy ending is really annoying in how it unfolds and also prolongs matters. Suffice it to say the amount of explication that Logan (Efron) is allowed shouldn’t really have occurred if we’re to have the standard “I’m so mad at you scene.”

Now every time I started one of these paragraphs I was intimating that “It’s not all that bad” but not really discussing that. And it’s not all that bad, really. It gets pretty good sometimes and then something comes along and messes it up. Most of what makes it good, when it is, are the actors. In many cases they likely breathe more life into fairly standard characters than they should have a right to so they ought to be applauded for that. Zac Efron is a very good romantic lead, he does play a soldier at all times but slowly but surely, with a bit of subtlety reveals character and emotion; Taylor Schilling certainly gives it her all and is always real; Blythe Danner adds necessary charm and sass to the film and great deal of comedy and Riley Thomas Stewart, as Beth’s (Taylor Schilling) son Ben, is a naturally gifted young actor who plays a rather multi-faceted, normal yet misunderstood by his peers kid.

Ultimately, I liked the characters and the actors enough that, yes I did invest in what became of them, even though it was a seemingly foregone conclusion, however, with so few events that had a lot of weight in terms of whether the film sink or swam I just couldn’t get over the couple of glaring issues it did have.

5/10

Thankful for World Cinema- A Man and a Woman

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

A Man and a Woman

Anouk Aimée and Jean Louis Trintignant in A Man and a Woman (Les Films 13)

A Man and a Woman is about the simplest and least pretentious romantic story you are bound to find. This statement is important because most often the problem with the romantic comedy or the straight romance is that the story is often too contrived, far-fetched, and/or lacking in true human emotion. In this film we see how two people fall in love and better yet we don’t even get a happily ever after type of ending but rather we see that these two people are willing to love again after having lost their first spouses.

This film is also interesting in the way director Claude Lelouch structures his narrative. Not only do we never over-deal with the fact that they both lost their first loves we also find this information out at different times in the story and the information in the film is also communicated very visually which is interesting as opposed to hearing dialogue which if poorly-delivered would come across as ham-handed.

The psychological focus of the tale is definitely Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimée). She is more the focus because we see both her falling in love with her first husband, Pierre, while “Samba da Bênção” by Toquinho and Vinicius is played. On a side note, the addition of Samba to a French film shows how much broader their cultural horizons are than ours are. It matters not that they might not understand Portuguese for they recognize the Samba as probably the most wonderful sound ever created. We see Anne meeting her first husband and also how he dies.

Then as she consummates her relationship with Jean-Luc we see her thought process as she flashes back to her time with Pierre and how difficult loving another man is for her. One of the best parts of the film on Lelouch’s part is when Valérie (Valérie Lagrange), Jean-Luc’s first wife, is in the hospital after his accident. We see not only her strife but the passage of time through a series of jump cuts. I found this technique much more effective than a series of dissolves or on very long take.  In this sequence we also see how sometimes telling can be more effective than showing as we do not see her commit suicide but rather hear Jean-Luc say it with sadness in his voice.

Another interesting technique in this film is alternating between color and black and white. In the very beginning of the film it is used solely to differentiate between a flashback and the present tense but rather in a reversed way. The flashbacks are in color. This presents the present as more gritty and not as joyful whereas the flashbacks may not have been happier they certainly were more colorful as they are with most people.

What’s impressive about A Man and a Woman, as is often the case with a lot of French films, is its simplicity. We deal with real people in a real type of story, plot devices and formulas are completely thrown out the window. And in this film what we get is a much more enjoyable experience than any Hollywood formula could possibly provide.

10/10

61 Days of Halloween- Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering

Naomi Watts and Mark Salling in Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (Dimension)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering is an absolute dud. If it wasn’t for some of the performances this film might rank lower in the annals of the franchise than it does. It is seriously sluggish throughout and never gets anywhere fast.

The most notable thing about this film is that two of its more prominent players have gone on to bigger and better things and you can see why Naomi Watts and Mark Salling (Glee) are so much better than the parts they play and the film they’re in that they scarcely lift it up but merely make their portions of the film somewhat tolerable.

To get a sense of the issues that this film faces there is yet another noteworthy performance in this film and it is that of Karen Black. It’s actually a shame to see someone like Karen Black in a film like this and it made me think of the Family Guy joke about her just a little bit different, not as an obscure reference but in an obscure film.

This also one of the films in the series wherein the child prophet (Josiah played by Brandon Klayla) is missing through a large majority of the film. Rather than write him scarier he’s disfigured with bad prostheses and doesn’t invoke as much fear as he should, however, he is behind the eight ball due to his screen time.

This film also suffers from the fact that it’s the one that does the most to try and absolve the children of being evil. The corn and its disease plays a major role in this film and though some of the hospital scenes are the better ones in the film it’s a perpetuation of an unfortunate development in the series that thankfully dies after this film.

While this film does only somewhat better in juggling a blossoming romance and a horror story it misses the boat. The problem is romances are exciting and new and you “have” to watch the courtship and have it detract from the reason you’re watching the film, to be scared. Yes, it could help you connect to these characters and raise the stakes but it also introduces a lot of artifice and room for easy exposition, life stories as exchanges and so forth. Whereas in the original, the remake and the latest installment one of the stronger elements in all of them is that the couples have an existing relationship. They have a history they talk, debate, bicker and fight and you learn about them in a more subtle way and have a better chance of rooting for them because they are together and want to get out go on a honeymoon, have kids and what have you. Marriages, and/or committed relationships have more permutations, interest and conflicts than star-crossed love stories.

The other huge issue with this film is indicated by the subtitle, The Gathering. There’s not much more to it than that. It’s likely if not the most, one of the most anticlimactic films in the series. In the other ones, even those that aren’t good, at least deliver a compelling climax, in conception anyway.

I frequently write about the last image, shot and/or scene of a film being very important. After a film such as this one you want that scene to something quick and simple and hopefully not open, I’ll grant it that this one wasn’t an open end but still kind of a gimmicky one but unfortunately fitting considering what preceded it.

3/10

Review- Crazy, Stupid, Love

Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros.)

Crazy, Stupid, Love is for lack of a better word a film that isn’t receiving a lot of love but more important than that it is a film that breaks free of a few molds, works on a few levels and does so exceedingly well. It’s funny, heartfelt, dramatic and a truthful family story. It has pretty real and rounded characters that we meet in isolation and learn about more so when they interact.

Now I know that many of you are asking “Hey, isn’t this a RomCom and therefore sucky?” The answers to those questions are it’s not that easy and most definitely not. The problem with most romantic comedies is not just the formulaic nature but the lack of dimension, which they have. They too often tend to be all about the relationship and the obstacles two people face in trying to be with one another and reach that ultimate pinnacle. What separates a film like this is first it’s about its characters’ struggles and not a relationship but in each serious relationship it builds it does things a bit unconventionally and unexpectedly. The main relationship is a marriage of 20+ years that is falling apart, which is not your usual recipe for one of these films. Similarly, the secondary relationships don’t follow the typical patterns.

There’s also a lack of schmaltz, contrivance and other kinds of BS you’re usually saddled with in a film of this kind. I’d call this film the best of its kind since Love, Actually (In part because few make me want to see them and few are any good) but what this film does better than Love, Actually is it doesn’t need the pretense to tell several kinds of love stories, they’re all intertwined in much more organic way. I’m not sure it’s better than that but if it is we might be looking at perhaps going all the way back to French Kiss for something as good.

I could go on for quite a bit about the performances in this film, however, I will attempt to reach some semblance of balance. First, there’s Steve Carell, which brings to mind another apt comparison for this film is that this is kind of like what Dan in Real Life yearned to be, both in terms of his arc and performance but it just never got there. I’ve seen a lot of Steve Carell in the years since he left The Daily Show and this may just be his next great performance the only stronger being Little Miss Sunshine. Then, of course, you have his wonderful counterpart Julianne Moore, who is so consistently brilliant as of late it may be easy to overlook her contribution to this film.

Ryan Gosling has no simple task in this film either. He has to be equally convincing as the can’t-miss-womanizer and also a guy who lets his guard down and falls for the one girl who can crack through the facade. Similarly, Emma Stone has a deceptively simple job; she has to bring her comedic chops and feminine wiles to the same part so she needs to be equal parts sarcastic and smart and lovable. Her persona is infectious but as Zookeeper proves your aura does not guarantee the elevation of a film.

The third pairing features perhaps the most surprising turns. First, you have Jonah Bobo as Robbie. Bobo has been infrequently seen since his debut performance in Zathura. His character is refreshingly written in certain regards and very well interpreted. Bobo exudes an intellectual maturity and emotional naivete that are essential to this part. Conversely, Analeigh Tipton poignantly captures an essentially young girl with a woman’s desires and makes it a third strong combination.

This is a film, as the genre-related discussion above implies, is also a comedy, if not primarily, and it most definitely delivers in terms of laughs. There are laughs to be had in this film and in good quantity. Since I viewed it it’s already proven rather quotable but also it packs a wallop in terms of dramatic emotional content. This balance along with a sizable portion of it being funny is what places it head-and-shoulders above most films of its kind. This makes the film quite moving as well as funny in the end.

As if it was out to disprove many notions I typically find annoying this film also includes a twist which works to great effect and like a good one does it elevates the film and it’s helped by the fact that it’s not too close to the end and doesn’t have the whole film hinge on it.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is an old kind of film done in a more modern way. It takes some 21st Century notions and mixes it in with tried and true storytelling techniques that are executed here better than you’ll find in most films regardless of genre. Typically, the amount of value you get out of you admission price is not a barometer I use but this film makes itself worth the price of admission in many ways. It’s well worth it.

10/10

Review- Zookeeper

Kevin James in Zookeeper (Columbia Pictures)

Upon hearing about the film Zookeeper one would think and hope that there’s got to be more to it than just talking animals. The good news is that there is. The bad news is that there really isn’t that much more to it. Sadly, the film aside from not being that funny gets bogged down in a transparent and overly predictable love plot that makes the entire thing seem like an exercise rather than an attempt to create.

While the film starts well enough with a humorous and slightly heartbreaking inciting incident of a failed proposal attempt there comes a point where all the cards are laid out on the table and you start to see where it’s heading. Now I harp on this because this isn’t your usual amount of predictability, I’m talking about an experience wherein you can predict how and when all the dominoes of the story will fall with a great amount of accuracy, this lack of the unexpected leads to a lack of joy and a lack of real comedic impact despite the occasional half-hearted chuckle.

When there is a twist, and I use that term lightly here, it’s like a breath of fresh air and what you’re witnessing becomes exponentially more enjoyable than it should be. When you combine two old hat concepts like talking animals and chasing after a dream girl that doesn’t make the story different or unique by default there needs to be a bit more to it than that but the film never quite gets there.

Typically, with material of this ilk the performances can raise it to a level where it ought not be able to reach but that sadly doesn’t happen here. Rosario Dawson, who let me state for the record is a great actress, can’t really elevate the film at all. A majority of the laughs that this film can muster are thanks to Joe Rogan, as our lead’s rival for the affections of his beloved. He is a crazy, over-the-top type of character but at least he’s well-defined and there’s an energy to his scenes. Kevin James’ scenes with him are the best he has really, as a romantic lead and a no-nonsense-business-man he connects less and isn’t as convincing.

The casting of the voices was a bit odd. Cher and Sylvester Stallone are always very obviously themselves and never really become their characters or invisible as I like to call it in voice work. Adam Sandler does well by seemingly impersonating Gilbert Gottfried as the monkey but of course Nick Nolte is the stand out of the voice cast not because he has the most versatile voice but because he’s the strongest actor of the bunch by far.

Of course, in comedies it all comes down to “How funny is it?” If it can hold water as a compelling narrative it can almost be looked at as a bonus. Clearly as a story the film has its failings but it’s really not terribly funny either. It’s the kind of movie that you might see on cable (a lot) and if you had nothing better to do you’d still likely change the channel.

The ultimate failing of this film is that it tried to get a little too cute by creating an excessive amount of symmetry in the story. This symmetry makes the design of the film apparent and instead of being engaged the film just hits you and you just take it. Sadly, there are very few redeeming qualities about this one.

3/10

Review- That’s What I Am

Ed Harris, Chase Ellison and Andrew Walters in That's What I Am (WWE)

In a somewhat similar vein to Alabama Moon, That’s What I Am is a film whose distribution path deserves a little bit of attention. The only place I heard of this playing was New York’s Quad Cinema and it was for one weekend only. Considering that I was going to be in New York that weekend I tried to shoehorn it into my plans but alas could not.

I later found out that it would shortly be available for purchase exclusively through Walmart. As if that’s not enough quirks it’s also a release from WWE, yes, as in World Wrestling Entertainment. For those of you groaning: aside from having a wrestler play a small part (Randy Orton whom I was glad to learn is also a producer for the film) there’s no wrestling involvement in the story.

That’s What I Am is a film in several ways that is sold and seems to be nothing more than a standard coming-of-age tale. However, there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye from the trailer. The film’s journey, as seen through its protagonist Andy (Chase Ellison), is the narrative of a formative time rather than one singular incident. The fact that the incidents that pervade this film are balanced relatively well gives this film a quasi-European aesthetic, why it doesn’t quite reach it will be shown later.

The trailer would lead you to believe that there are two main thrusts to the tale: not judging a book by its cover and discovering what one is, in short tolerance. Yet there’s far much more more to it.

Perhaps the most unexpected is the narrative strand that dominates a lot of the film is the allegation that the ever-popular uber-teacher Mr. Simon (Ed Simon) is gay. Considering that it’s set in the 1960s this is a perfectly legitimate grounds for termination (according to society) and it sets up a lot of the conflict and brings up the theme of tolerance in a different regard. Ed Harris is wonderful as usual and his initial denial to even respond is fantastic. I’ll not give away how this strand ends but he does eventually answer the question definitively in private and I wish he hadn’t. I think a stronger statement is made by his steadfastly saying “It doesn’t matter, I’m a good teacher.”

That serves to highlight the inconsistency in writing. Some of the dialogue isn’t as sharp as it needs to be and on occasion stumbles into the bad range but overall it is serviceable. There is plentiful voice-over by Andy as adult reflecting back which brings to mind Stand by Me because he is a writer but it nowhere near as strong.

There is also a romantic subplot in this film but what is refreshing about it is that it doesn’t dominate the narrative and it’s not a puppy love or I’m-gonna-die-if-she’s-not-mine crush it’s an attraction and the girl has a reputation, which lends some humor to it. In the Big G (Andrew Walters) subplot, the one that kicks the film off, wherein Andy is paired with him for an assignment, his being mocked for his appearance and nerdiness is only part of the equation. The other facet is that he never hesitates to be who he is and not be afraid of ridicule, meanwhile, his best friend Norman (Daniel Yelsky) is obsessed with blending in and they fight over this issue a few times.

Despite a few weak spots in the adult nucleus this film is buoyed by the strong performances of its young cast. Namely Chase Ellison, an actor whose had many strong turns either in small roles or smaller films, is a very effective “Everykid,” in this film and unlike many other films of its ilk doesn’t necessarily strike you as awkward trying to play awkward and seems to relate greatly to the part. Andrew Walters does a very effective job being the stoic, picked on Big G and I was glad to learn that in his big scene at the talent show he did his own stunt, so to speak. Daniel Yelsky is also convincing as the neurotic and fearful foil to Big G and Mia Rose Frampton plays a toned down, sweeter version of the character she is in the funniest scene in Bridesmaids.

There are a few instances in which I wish this film handled things more deftly or differently but ultimately I was quite pleased with indeed. This is a film that’s worth seeking out and is suitable viewing for the family, keeping rating in mind of course.

That’s What I Am is also available to stream on Netflix.

8/10