Review: “Lucy”

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In response to those grumbling about the experience of watching Lucy (Luc Besson’s latest big effects action film – this time with Scarlett Johansson as the kick ass lead), I’m of two minds…Going in to the movie, I was simply hoping it would at least be a somewhat fun trifle of a summer flick on the order of Limitless. On that scale, it hits its target the majority of the time (though you’ll have to decide for yourself if it deserves bonus or penalty points for its rather kooky ending that is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Isaac Asimov and part “You’ve gotta be kidding me…”). However, I can’t help but think about what the film could have been…How it could have explored the nature of the brain from Lucy’s perspective and touched on how the organ evolved, continues to do so and manages to have such a vast array of amazing abilities and structural flaws. That probably would have departed drastically from what I hoped for going in, but the possibility is just so tantalizing…

The movie you do get is patently ridiculous. That’s OK though – even though it’s not overly thrilling, has laughable science, is best when no one (except maybe the always menacing Choi Min-sik) is talking and has CGI effects that get in their own way sometimes, I’ll be damned if I wasn’t at least somewhat entertained. Most often that was due to the built-in ridiculousness, but at some point it’s easy enough to roll with the whole thing and realize that it’s just one of “those” movies. As it slowly but surely ramps up the silly, it lets you reset your approach to it, laugh with and/or at it and then settle back with a bit of a grin on your face.

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Philipp Meyer’s The Son to be adapted for AMC

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When Philipp Meyer quit his job on Wall Street to pursue writing, I’m sure he never expected his sophomore novel would not only be a Pulitzer Prize finalist, but also that it’d be adapted to the small screen with his intimate involvement by one of the hottest channels in television, AMC.

I first wrote about Philipp Meyer in 2009, after reading his excellent debut novel, the rustbelt Pennsylvania set American Rust, which at the time had been optioned for a big screen adaptation that is currently stuck in development purgatory.

Last month though, exciting news was announced by Deadline: AMC is developing a show based on his second novel, The Son, and Philipp Meyer himself will serve as executive producer.

Last summer, when I read his Texas-set, ambitious, brutal, and sometimes horrific sweeping epic The Son. I was blown away. I burnt through the 700+ pages in two sittings. The novel is not merely good… it’s a masterpiece. An instant classic. An important book in American literature that’s only going to continue to grow in significance as the decades pass. And while comparisons are silly, if you need one, it’s sort of like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian as interpreted by John Steinbeck before being edited by William Faulkner.

When reading it, I thought the novel, like Blood Meridian, would be nearly impossible to adapt to the big screen. Even on television, which will provide the filmmakers with much more freedom than Hollywood would, it will be difficult as the story follows three distinct generations and time periods of a rising Texas oil empire: the ruthless Eli McCulloch, Eli’s son Pete, and Eli’s great-granddaughter Jeanne.

Meyer himself described it as a “partly historical novel about the rise of an oil and ranching dynasty in Texas, tracing the family from the earliest days of white settlement, fifty years of open warfare with the Comanches, the end of the frontier and the rise of the cattle industry, and transitioning into the modern (oil) age.”

What I find even more interesting, The Dallas Morning News ran an article yesterday describing how Meyer and writers like him are getting on board projects as executive producer.

Writers including Meyer, Brian McGreevy of Hemlock Grove, and Smith Henderson of Fourth of July Creek have formed a writers collective called El Jefe which, according to Meyer, was created to “help interesting, high-quality literary writers adapt, produce, and retain meaningful ownership of their own work for television and film.” Perhaps this was in response to the mess surrounding the American Rust adaptation that fizzled out.

The Son for AMC will be El Jefe’s first production. There is no word yet on casting or filming dates.

If you’ve read The Son, do you think even with Meyer’s involvement they’ll be able to effectively adapt it for television? Who could you envision in any of the lead roles? Chime in below!

Even if God existed, to say he loved the human race was preposterous. It was just as likely the opposite; it was just as likely he was systematically deceiving us. To think that an all-powerful being would make a world for anyone but himself, that he might spend all his time looking out for the interests of lesser creatures, it went against all common sense. The strong took from the weak, only the weak believed otherwise, and if God was out there, he was just as the Greeks and Romans had suspected; a trickster, an older brother who spent all his time inventing ways to punish you. -Philipp Meyer, The Son

Trailer: Nightcrawler

Dan Gilroy, who along with his older brother Tony, wrote various entries in the Bourne franchise, makes directorial debut Nightcrawler and while this kind of escaped my notice upon the initial peruse through the TIFF announcements yesterday, the trailer has my attention. Jake Gyllenhaal is on fire after his one-two punch with Denis Villeneuve last year (Enemy, Prisoners and here he stars as an ambitious, morally dubious crime reporter in Los Angeles that will do anything to climb the ladder. In a brilliant move with the trailer, things are narrated as a job interview (to a fetching, as always, Rene Russo) while the images ooze pure sleaze and opportunism. Bill Paxton (also on fire lately as a ringer support-man) also shows up for a few seconds.

October cannot come soon enough.

Trailer: Dear White People

Very dialogue driven, in a Kevin Smith or Whit Stillman kind of way, Justin Simien’s Dear White People mines the ever present racial tension in the United States for laughs. On one hand, it does show how far we’ve come (at least in the University microcosm) that the stakes here are decidedly lower in stakes than say, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, but it does not make any of the films verbal salvos any less stinging or funny. Have a look at the trailer below.

Dear White People was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival which described the film as thus:

At prestigious Winchester University, biracial student Samantha White begins her radio show, “Dear White People, the amount of black friends required not to seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man, Tyrone, doesn’t count.” Sam becomes president of the all-black residential hall Parker/Armstrong, whose existence is facing extinction in the name of diversification. TV reality show “Black Face/White Place” smells gold in Sam’s story and decides to follow it, rejecting the proposal of fellow black student Coco Conners, who pitched her show “Doing Time at an Ivy League”. The clamor over Sam’s rise also becomes a career-defining opportunity for black misfit Lionel Higgins when he is asked to join the school’s lily-white newspaper staff to cover the controversy, even though he secretly knows little about black culture.

Review: “Wish I Was Here”


Director: Zach Braff (Garden State)
Writers: Zach Braff, Adam Braff
Producers: Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Matthew Andrews, Adam J. Braff, Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Pierce Gagnon, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Jim Parsons, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 106 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can HERE

 


Wish I Was Here, plays out very much like a spiritual successor to Zach Braff’s previous film, 2004’s Garden State. While Garden State saw Braff as a disenchanted and lost soul leaving his twenties, Wish I Was Here sees Braff in his next stage of life, dealing with children, money, and death.

Braff plays Aidan, an out of work actor struggling to get a gig in order to help support his wife, played by Kate Hudson, and two children. After he discovers his father (Mandy Patinkin) is no longer paying for his kid’s tuition, he finds out the reason is because his father is dying of cancer and is attempting an expensive homeopathic treatment. While dealing with the impending passing of this father and the decision to home school his kids. Aidan finds himself in an existential crisis, struggling to figure out why anything matters.

This is the type of film that will undoubtedly polarize most critics. Some will hate it for the heavy-handedness of the storyline while others will look past the melodrama and find a connection. Like Braff’s previous film, there are plenty of indie rock montages and deep one on one conversations, but I was buying every minute of it.

It’s a tearjerker for sure, but it’s still what could be considered a dramedy. Braff is funny, as is the entire cast, including an outstanding performance from Josh Gad, who plays Braff’s brother. Like Garden State the dialogue is smart and at times poetic, causing laughter one second and tears the next.

As Aidan attempts to navigate the waters of fatherhood, teaching his kids about life and death, a lot of humor comes from his interactions with the children. His daughter Grace (Joey King) is an ultra orthodox Jew who spends more time praying than learning to just be a kid. Tucker (Pierce Gangnon), the son, is an overly intelligent yet odd little kid, who carries a drill with him wherever he goes and appears to be a dreamer like his father. Both children do a fantastic job and are a joy to watch on screen.

Wish I Was Here is a well-made dramatic comedy that seems to be heavily influenced by Zach Braff’s real life experiences. The film plays out like a more realistic version of This is 40, with less filler and more serious subject matter. Some will find the dramatic elements a bit hard to swallow, but for me I found it to be incredibly touching and well worth the wait.

 
 

Trailer: Hector And The Search For Happiness

Fresh off its announcement to bow at The Toronto International Film Festival, Peter Chelsom’s FHector And The Search For Happiness gets a big glossy trailer. Schmaltzy? yes. Funny? A tad (the airplane transition, as well as the gong sound cue). It still looks like a far better version of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty if you smashed it together with Eat, Pray, Love and stole liberally from the style of Edgar Wright.

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist who has become increasingly tired of his humdrum life. As he tells his girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike), he feels like a fraud: he hasn’t really tasted life, and yet he’s offering advice to patients who are just not getting any happier. So Hector decides to break out of his deluded and routine driven life. Armed with buckets of courage and child-like curiosity, he embarks on a global quest in hopes of uncovering the elusive secret formula for true happiness. And so begins a larger than life adventure with riotously funny results. Based on the world-wide best-selling novel of the same name, Hector and the Search for Happiness also stars Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno and Christopher Plummer.

Review: “The Purge: Anarchy”


Director: James DeMonaco (The Purge, Little New York)
Writer: James DeMonaco
Producers: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Sebastien Lemercier
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 103 min.

 
 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on my LetterBoxd page

 


Given that it’s a sequel to one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the past few years, saying that my expectations were low for The Purge: Anarchy would be a gross understatement. Thankfully, this second effort takes the wacky premise that this now-series was founded on and actually engages with it instead of turning into a generic home invasion thriller. Last year’s Purge introduced us to a near-future where America has devoted one 12-hour night a year towards making all crime, including murder (apparently it’s just murder really), legal but it quickly backed out of any of the messy complications and expansive world-building that you would have expected to see. The result was another in a line of self-serious, recycled and tedious home invasion thrillers but writer/director James DeMonaco made the wise decision to up the ante on this second go round by taking us onto the streets and showing us how the many different classes experience the Purge in their own unique ways.

Amidst a sea of masked, hooded and arms-bearing killers we set our sights on five individuals whose paths unexpectedly collide while trying to escape the mayhem. Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) are a lower-class mother and daughter living in an apartment complex that is raided by a group of armored men who drag them out onto the street, intending to place them in a menacing truck armed to the teeth. The ladies are saved by Leo (Frank Grillo), a police sergeant who got himself suited up and was ready to use this one night of legalized criminality to murder the man who killed his son but saw something in these women that tapped into the basic decency at his heart that couldn’t allow him to keep driving by. At the same time, young couple Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) hop in the backseat of Leo’s car in order to evade a gang of men hunting them down across the city. Together this group forms a bond under Leo’s protection in the hopes of being able to survive this treacherous night. It won’t be easy.
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Talking Boyhood at The MatineeCast

Ft seems we all champion a movie each year. In 2014, I’m championing Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (my review). Not only do I expect it to be at the top of my favorites list come year end, in five years or so when we do our “best of the decade” list, it will be sitting pretty close to the top of that list as well.

While The Cinecast is on hiatus for a week or two during finals week and Kurt seeks out some Fantasia fun, I did get to rally my love for the movie along with Ryan McNeil over at The Matinee. I always dig being a guest on a show because I can focus more on listening to the other person and concentrating on saying what I want to say and not have to worry about technical crap. But hey, life is just a series of moments.

Besides Boyhood, I get to answer round three of the “know your enemy” questions and while playing the other side, we discover that rabbits are jerks, 90s kids are tacky, the human race is doomed and skunks are gay (i.e. Slacker and Bambi).

So by all means, drop by The Matinee sometime this week and have a listen. Comments are closed for this post, so if you have thoughts on the show, leave them in the comments section over there; we’ll be listening. – But if you haven’t seen Boyhood yet, go do that first. In fact, do it now!