Mid 90s

mid90s

Jonah Hill is a good actor. Two Oscar nominations! His directorial debut Mid 90s, however, is a tedious slog. Run time is a mere 80 minutes; it just seems longer.

Mid 90s is a coming of age story centered on Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a 13-year-old who is physically abused by his older brother (Lucas Hedges) and mostly ignored by his single mom (Katherine Waterston).

Stevie is small and shy. He finds acceptance by a group of older teens who hang out at a skateboard shop. They become a sort of surrogate family for Steve. Stevie becomes a more skillful skateboarder. The older boys introduce Stevie to tobacco, weed, booze, sex and other temptations.

The aftermath of a climactic event reveals the gang’s true feelings for their younger friend. And that’s about it.

For some reason the film is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Narrow screen. Like certain old TV clips look on Youtube. Original music is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Jonah Hill also wrote the script. A meatier story line might’ve made Mid 90s a more memorable movie. The characters Hill has created are good. They deserve a better narrative.

Here’s hoping Jonah Hill polishes his directing talent and his next effort achieves some of the heights he’s reached with his acting ability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hail, Caesar!

In 1951, movies are huge. Their stars are big. Their colors are bright, if not garish. Television has not yet become a national obsession. In Los Angeles, Capitol Studios fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) loves his job even if his days and nights are spent putting out fires.

In Hail, Caesar!, the Coen brothers sprinkle their new film with fully realized scenes like those that electrified the movies Hollywood made in the postwar, pre-TV era. It’s a trick comparable to the addition of compelling music performances to brighten up a melancholy story in their most recent film, 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis. Music also spiced up their 2000 release Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? It worked then and it works now.

Among the films in production at Capital in the day-and-a-half that Hail, Caesar! takes place is a film called “Hail, Caesar” starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Whitlock is kidnapped after a spiked drink he chugs in a scene knocks him unconscious. A missing star is just one of Mannix’s problems.

DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johanssen) stars in a swimming pool scene that recalls Esther Williams movies. Mannix works to make sure news of Moran’s out-of-wedlock child is kept quiet.

Director Laurence Larentz (Ralph Fiennes) pouts when Mannix forces him to cast handsome young cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) in a sophisticated society film.

When Mannix seeks approval from a panel of clergymen for the script for “Hail, Caesar” and its depiction of Christ, they protest.

Twin sister gossip columnists (and bitter rivals) Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) threaten to write stories damaging to Mannix’s stars.

When Mannix drops in on an editor (Frances McDormand) and asks her to show him some footage, she nearly chokes when her scarf gets caught in the film.

A cushy job offer Mannix receives from Lockheed presents a chance to move into a more stable industry and spend more time with his family. Will he take it?

Among the film’s best scenes is a dance number featuring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), channeling Gene Kelly. Gurney sings and he and three other guys dance on tabletops. They lament that where they’re going there will be no dames. Near the end of the scene, the performance takes an unexpected turn.

Another features Mannix setting Whitlock straight with a bit of physical discipline.

Hail, Caesar! is a movie I enjoy greatly. The Coen brothers present a whacked-out story with damaged characters and several juicy 50s-era “movie within a movie” scenes. Brolin is excellent. Clooney gets to indulge in some ridiculous overacting. And Swinton continues to be one of the most versatile actors around.

As can be said about almost any Coens film, Hail, Caesar! may not be everybody’s cup of tea. You may walk out muttering WTFs. But you may also be delighted. It’s worth a shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

True Story

Brilliant opening shot: A teddy bear falls slowly, landing softly next to a little girl who is, inexplicably, curled up in a suitcase. It is quickly revealed why.

Meanwhile, Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill), a New York Times reporter, goes to Africa for a story that makes the cover of the Times Sunday magazine. The story is written while Finkel plays poker with colleagues in the newsroom. He wins the hand but it turns out his story is not quite accurate. He is fired.

Finkel goes to his cabin in Montana with his lady Jill (Felicity Jones) and pitches freelance writing pieces. A call comes from a reporter in Oregon (Ethan Suplee), informing Finkel that accused murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) claimed he (Longo) was Finkel when he was arrested in Mexico.

When Finkel goes to Oregon to visit Longo, the fun begins. In a series of jailhouse one-to-ones, Franco and Hill each show off their acting talents. Finkel is flattered when Longo mentions how much he likes Finkel’s writing. Longo sends Finkel a lengthy handwritten letter and Finkel offers to use its content to co-write a book, once the case is cleared.

Jill has doubts about the whole scenario, but Finkel is totally seduced by Longo’s apparent intelligence and his cool demeanor (despite being charged with four murders).

After this enticing setup, the film bogs down. But… here comes another memorable sequence: Director Rupert Goold juxtaposes Jill’s piano playing with Finkel’s writing on his laptop. Keyboard on keyboard action. Nice.

True Story has a bit of suspense: What is the true story? Did Longo kill his family? What will happen at trial? Will Finkel and Longo co-author a book? Will Finkel be redeemed after his journalistic faux pas?

But the payoff is weak. Oh, there’s resolution, but it doesn’t quite deliver what the first few chapters of the film indicated might lay ahead.

Nonetheless, Franco and Hill are a delight to watch. Someone told me when she heard those two were in a movie together, she presumed it was a comedy. Nope. True Story is serious stuff. It takes a shot, but ultimately misses out on greatness.

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is a pure delight! Colorful, clever and FUNNY! With a memorable song you might find yourself humming on your way home. And a story that springs from the dilemma that many Lego users face: do I follow the instructions or do I make my own creations?

The Lego Movie is my first “must see” film of 2014. Even if you’re a not a fan of silly stuff, you need to check it out for the visuals. Even if you never played with Legos or never had kids who played with Legos, the Lego movie will entertain you.

Emmet (Chris Pratt of TV’s Parks and Recreation) is an everyman Lego guy. But thanks to a series of unexpected events, he goes on a trip that’s almost as mindbending as Alice’s journey to Wonderland.

Emmet, through no effort of his own, is the chosen one, charged with derailing the plans of President Business (Will Ferrell) to glue everything in the universe together with something called “The Kragle.”

Along the way he meets a bizarre cast of Legos: a girl named WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), Vitrivius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Lego pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman).

Other Lego characters seen briefly are Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), Lando Calrissian (Billy D. Williams), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Wonder Woman (Colby Smulders) and Superman (Channing Tatum) among many others.

The various Lego universes seen in the film are universally spectacular. And The Lego Movie‘s coda (whose content will not be revealed here) is sweet and touching.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller shared directing and screenplay duties. The soundtrack is by Mark Mothersbaugh, best known as a founding member of DEVO, but also known for doing music for the Rugrats TV show.

\My first thought when walking out of the theater was: “I want to see it again!” And I will! Soon!

 

 

 

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort is the 21st century Charles Foster Kane. He is one of the most over-the-top, outsize movie characters in years. Kane made his fame as a newspaper publisher; Belfort, as a rules-bending stockbroker. Both relish influence, control, riches and a lavish lifestyle. Both are fitting archetypes of their eras.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of 2013’s best movies. In director Martin Scorcese’s vast film canon, this is one of his most memorable and most entertaining efforts.

Leonardo DiCaprio takes this juicy role handed him by Scorcese and milks it for all it’s worth. Sex and drugs inspire Belfort to earn ridiculous amounts of money. But he is a man who can’t be satisfied: the more sex, drugs and money he gets, the more he wants.

Belfort (DiCaprio) is the dominating centerpiece of this excellent movie, but his partners in crime complement his greed and debauchery. Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) is Belfort’s top sideman in scamming and in living the high life. The cast includes Rob Reiner as Belfort’s dad, Jean Dujardin (of The Artist fame) as a Swiss banker and Mathew McConaughey as one of Belfort’s early mentors.

The film is based on the books of real life stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who has written about his reckless, risky behavior. Considering that Belfort was under the influences of cocaine, Quaaludes and booze much of the time, his memories of what happened may be a bit spotty.

Whether the tall tales he writes regarding his exploits are completely true does not really matter. The story we see on the screen is big, loud, outrageous and entertaining. TWOWS is not a movie to be taken totally seriously, though it should be seen by anyone who buys stocks through a stockbroker. The movie’s narrative is obviously filled with exaggeration and hyperbole, but that only makes it more entertaining.

Special note: The Wolf of Wall Street contains a large amount of graphic nudity and sexual content, much of which may be shocking to see in a mainstream Hollywood film at your multiplex. But most of the sexual content is not of an erotic nature, and some of it provides many of TWOWS’s funny and OMG moments.

As Belfort lived his life at full speed ahead, so does Scorcese in his telling of the story. The Wolf of Wall Street is a 3-hour movie and, except for a few respites, it unspools with compelling episode after compelling episode.

The Wolf of Wall Street should be in the running for multiple Oscar nominations. Best actor, best director and best movie are good possibilities. Brace yourself and enjoy this amazing, outrageous—and maybe even partly true—story.

The Watch

You are hereby officially notified: This is a bad movie.

The setup: Ben Stiller is manager of a Costco store in a small town in Ohio. When his night watchman is brutally killed. Stiller sets up a community watch team.

Stiller is joined on the team by Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and an unfamiliar actor, Richard Ayoade. Ayoade is interesting because of his mixed ethnicity, British accent and vaguely intellectual look. He’s a decent enough actor who may have a future in film comedy.

The watch team eventually discovers that what they are up against is… aliens! But their battle with aliens isn’t enough to fuel a whole movie, so we get somewhat lame subplots about infertility, wild teenagers and arrogant small-town cops.

In comparison to other R-rated movies with dirty language (such as “Ted”), this movie seems to bring the raunchiness just for the sake of raunchiness. Yes, there are some laughs along the way, but much of the script languishes in that zone between “almost funny” and “ecccch.”

SNL vet Will Forte’s roles this summer in “That’s My Boy,” “Rock of Ages” and now as the smart-ass cop in “The Watch” (along with his bizarre role on “30 Rock”) appear to have positioned him as a go-to guy for comedy character roles. Rosemarie DeWitt appears as Stiller’s wife.

Unless you feel obliged to see every single movie that Stiller, Vaughn or Hill make, watch this one in a year or two on cable or Nexflix. Believe me, you can wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“21 Jump Street”—((Fun Times at Sagan High))

“21 Jump Street” is funny and fun. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a worthy combo because of the many contrasts they bring to their pairing. And, because both have good comedy chops.

The characters played by the two were high school classmates: Tatum, the good-looking dumb jock, and Hill, the less attractive smart nerd. When they find themselves classmates at police academy, Hill shares his smarts with Tatum and Tatum helps Hill get fit.

They become teammates on the force, but they make mistakes and are sent to 21 Jump Street. At that address is a Korean Christian church, in which Ice Cube commands cops on undercover assignments. Tatum and Hill are sent out as high school students in an effort to bust a drug ring. (Never mind that they are 30 and 28, respectively, in real life.)

Adding to the absurdity is the mixed-up identity plot device, through which Tatum is assigned to egghead classes and Hill is sent to run on the track team.

When they finally locate the drug connection at school, he will only sell them the tabs if they will ingest the drug right then. The ensuing drug trip provides some goofy fun.

Each has romantic inclinations at school. Hill has eyes for a cute drama club classmate, who he ends up inviting to the prom. Tatum has the hots for his science teacher, played by St. Louis’s Ellie Kemper. The Tatum-Kemper thing merely smolders, until the closing credits. (Do stick around after THE END.)

“21 Jump Street” has three good chase scenes, including the first one with our two rookie cops on bicycles. There’s a fair amount of violence and a heaping helping of R-rated language.

It has been reported for almost a year that a megastar who kicked off his career on the old “21 Jump Street” TV show has a cameo in the movie. Without sharing details, I will just say I love the way the filmmakers presented it.

Could Tatum and Hill have a future together in action comedies? If “21” hits the jackpot, bet on it.