Tag Archives: movie review

But He Was Such a Nice Guy… Jack Black Evokes My Sympathy for a Killer in Bernie (2011)

24 Feb
Bernie-Movie-4

Such a nice guy… Jack Black as Bernie Tiede

Last month I heard a story on NPR about convicted murderer Bernie Tiede, who continued to be loved by his entire community in Carthage, (East- very important!) Texas, even after he admitted to murdering an elderly widow and keeping her in a deep freezer in the garage for nine months. In the NPR story, they spent some time talking about Richard Linklater’s 2011 dark comedy/mockumentary about the man, aptly titled Bernie. It’s the Best in Show of murder movies.

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

The real Bernie Tiede (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Jack Black is absolutely amazing in this movie. He plays Tiede in such an endearing way, you can’t help but side with the many townspeople who also saw past Bernie’s horrific actions. As they put it, Marjorie Nugent, Tiede’s victim, was a total bitch. Shirley MacLaine, who portrays Nugent in the movie does a good job of letting us feel that she kind of had it coming. Whether that is true in real life is only truly known by Tiede himself, but I’m inclined to believe it. In addition to Black’s killer (ha!) performance, the vignettes of the townspeople, exhibited through mock interviews, are also just priceless.

Last year, Tiede’s attorney began to present new evidence in the case that alleges that Tiede was sexually abused as a child, and the emotional abuse he suffered at the hands of Nugent prior to her death drove him to a “dissociative episode,” which led him to kill her. I don’t want to ruin the surprise that is what became of Bernie Tiede and where he is today, so be sure to Google him only after you have seen this delightful movie.

I give it an A.

Here is one of my favorite scenes from the movie, about the differences between the regions of Texas.

And here is a great scene of Jack Black playing Bernie

I’m Gettin’ too Old for This Shit – Happy Christmas (2014)

18 Feb

I can be into Mumblecore movies, depending on my mood. Today was a snow day, a slow day, and an alone day, so I was

Mumblecore Poster Child Mark Duplass. (Not in the movie... but worth mentioning)

Mumblecore Poster Child Mark Duplass. (Not in the movie… but worth mentioning)

down for an onslaught of slow-moving plots that seem to go nowhere, meandering dialogue, and amateurish camera angles. Enter: Happy Christmas, a title that is one of the biggest misnomers I have come across in a movie. Sure, it takes place during Christmas time, but it’s more of an afterthought than a focal point. If anything, it is just there to add to the ambiance of a stagnant and frigid Chicago winter.

Lena Dunham fans rejoice, she makes several appearances in the movie as Jenny's friend Carson.

Lena Dunham fans rejoice, she makes several appearances in the movie as Jenny’s friend Carson.

Jenny (Anna Kendrick) has just broken up with her boyfriend, and has decided to start over again in Chicago. She has returned to live with her brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg), his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), and their baby while she looks for her own apartment. Jeff and Kelly set Jenny up in their tiki-themed bar basement while she relives the reality of living with a parent once again, complete with adolescent behaviors such as coming home wasted in the middle of the night, passing out drunk while a frozen pizza burns in the oven, and sneaking bowls downstairs while online shopping for Christmas presents.

Hangover city in the tiki basement

Hangover city in the tiki basement

One thing I like about this movie is that Jenny never wallows in the breakup that she left behind, and she doesn’t spend half of the movie complaining about the ups and downs of relationships. She’s just 27 years old, a bit directionless, and in a strange limbo between post-college and post-post-college, that awkward time when society takes a look at you, one foot tapping, saying, “you are really supposed to have your shit together by now,” but you don’t. This is why the film is so relatable to me. I barely have my shit together now, but at 27 I was really at a crossroads of the social discomfort and hangovers that I was supposed to have grown out of by then.

Carson and Jenny and Baby Jude

Carson and Jenny and Baby Jude

Full of discursive and improvisational dialogue, this movie shows people being people and having conversations in an unscripted way that I usually like. It feels a little overdone at times, but I appreciate a movie that captures realistic human interaction just as much as I enjoy beautifully prosaic scripts handcrafted by a room full of professional writers. It is exactly this kind of movie that I become more and more uncomfortable viewing in the company of others, for whatever reason. So many people want movies to have a point, a big and obvious breakthrough or resolution. Happy Christmas doesn’t really have one of those big messages at the end, but it’s relatable, and I really like that about this movie.

So if you ever felt a little lost and irresponsible while in your mid- to late-20’s; if you have found yourself a part of the boomerang generation that moves back in with family members or at least back to some semblance of the “home” from whence you once came; if you have ever woken up at noon, hungover, and thinking to yourself, “I’m getting too old for this shit;” and if you don’t mind reliving all of these uncomfortable moments just once more, you will like Happy Christmas, in spite of its hideous title.

Grade: B.

Everybody Must Get Stoned- Inherent Vice (2014)

12 Jan

inherent-vice-pta-joaquin-banner

Part Big Lebowski, part Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, part Boogie Nights. Sound intriguing? Read on.

When I saw the ad for Inherent Vice, I was like “meh, probably not for me.” That is until the very end when I read the fine print: “Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Based on the book by Thomas Pynchon.” I pulled a complete 180 on my apprehensions about the movie and dove in, head first, on the second day of its nationwide theatrical release. I haven’t done that in quite some time, and I am ashamed to admit that although I have this (rarely updated) movie blog, I prefer to wait until the movie comes out on Netflix.

PT Anderson is the architect for such movies as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and my personal favorite, Magnolia (among others). In fact, my last review here was on his other most recent film, The Master, which, like Inherent Vice, starred Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist. And like The Master, I don’t think that Inherent Vice quite hit the mark of those past films for me. I did like it much more than The Master, with the once exception being that I am sad it didn’t/couldn’t include Phillip Seymour Hoffman, for obvious reasons.

docThe good parts:
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a perma-stoned Private Investigator in 1970’s SoCal, following a breadcrumb trail of several different cases that twist and turn and intertwine in unexpected and comically unbelievable ways. Doc is the most lovable Joaquin Phoenix that I have ever experienced, so that is the a plus. Because of his permanently stoned state, Doc finds it just as incredulous as the viewer that all of these cases so coincidentally cross paths. His intoxication- mostly all of the joints in the tri-state area, along with an occasional nitrous tank or bump of heroin- is absolutely contagious. As a viewer your eyes will turn red, your perception will become hazy, your sense of humor will sharpen, and you will experience this ridiculous journey almost as stoned as Doc is. It’s truly unexplainable, and worth viewing the movie for that entertaining aspect. In addition, my beloved Joanna Newsom is an inspired choice for the narrator of the film (with occasional physical appearances). The star-studded cast is also a delight, and you never know who is going to make an appearance next (unless you ruin it by reading the cast list ahead of time).

Joanna Newsome as Sortilège. Swoon

Joanna Newsome as Sortilège. Swoon

The bad parts:
Although I am sure it is simply preserving the old school sentiments of 77-year old author of the novel, Thomas Pynchon, I cannot help but detest the sexist nature of this movie. The female characters are neither complex nor do they seem to act as agents of their own desires, but rather they exist as objects for the male gaze. (Although Joanna Newsom’s character, Sortilège, is actually rather sage and omnipotent, the only female character represented thusly). I find this incredibly frustrating, because I tend to like controversial movies that many people would find uncomfortable or that pushes boundaries of human decency, but I am somehow unable to get past this part of Inherent Vice, as much as I wish I could just ignore it. I am just sick of seeing movies that are so obviously written for men and by men without much consideration for women other than as some kind of accessory to the far more important male characters. This is my complaint with two of Wes Anderson’s recent movies as well: Darjeeling Limited and Grand Budapest Hotel.

Inherent-Vice_612x380I’ll give the movie a B, because I still found it wildly entertaining, and it is an uncomfortable movie. And as I mentioned, I am always a fan of those. Just like when I went to the theater to see Life Aquatic, I found myself laughing aloud a little more often than the rest of the moviegoers. Joaquin Phoenix and his constant high confusion kept me in a state of trying-to-hold-back-giggles throughout the movie, and although it was 2 and a half hours long, it didn’t feel as painfully long as I thought it might (thinking back to There Will Be Blood).

John Dies at the End (2012)

15 May

John DiesSpace and time are fluid, our lives are constantly filled with existential crises, it might be the slightly-clueless-yet-lovable-20-something who saves the day or the world, zombies are a thing, and so on. Does this sound familiar? Have you noticed a trend in this type of movie lately?  John Dies at the End fits this 2010’s indie/alternative  formula to a T. It evoked recollections of movies such as Enter the Void (2009), The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009), maybe even a little I Heart Huckabees (2004). It’s a Kevin Smith movie that read a Kurt Vonnegut bestseller and got knocked up by a zombie movie while watching Alien, thus producing a nerdy, somewhat disturbed film baby.

John Dies at the End takes us on a non-linear journey through Dave’s experiences with a strange drug that leads him to explore the definitions of  life and death, waking and sleeping reality, space and time, other dimensions. No, John-who-dies-at-the-end is not even the main character. And although the description above may render it as a serious movie, I assure you that it is as serious as its goofy title. Although it is based on a novel -written by David Wong, same name as the protagonist- it felt more like it was based on a comic book.

Dave (left) and John...who dies at the end.

Dave (left) and John…who dies at the end.

This movie brought with it a somewhat bi-polar movie experience. I would become engrossed in the plot, and think that the movie was genius and I couldn’t wait to see where they would go with it. Within five minutes my opinion would shift drastically as I realized how tacky it was getting. The “Jamaican” in the movie was a particularly hard character to swallow. Poorly-acted and grossly stereotyped, I tried not to dwell on his shortcomings too much. Before I could commit to shutting it off, it would take back off like a roller coaster, and I would become engaged once again.

So why not give it a shot? It’s a short, one and a half hour, weird space-time-continuum romp; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you; and for real, John does die at the “end.” I hope I didn’t ruin it for you.

Dark Days (2000)

14 Apr

dark_days

Documentaries run the gamut from silly bio-docs about video gamers (i.e. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters) to change-the-way-you-live-or-die guilt trippers (Food Matters, Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, etc.). There is a place and time for each kind on the spectrum of documentaries. Sometimes you want to learn how to make a change in the world, or learn how your behavior impacts the environment, international relations or the political climate. Sometimes you want to gawk at some unusual people who are not fictional characters. Dark Days is one of those docs that falls between the two categories. It won’t make you hate life, and it’s not just a voyeuristic romp through someone’s life. This is one of my favorite documentaries to date, due, in part, to the beautiful score composed by DJ Shadow. This haunting soundtrack paired with the black and white (though mostly black) film brings an eerie feel to the whole picture.

One of the NYC underground tunnel-dwellers of Dark Days

One of the NYC underground tunnel-dwellers of Dark Days

Dark Days takes you into the humble lives of the marginalized and forgotten citizens of the New York City underground. Not some underground “scene,” but literally under the ground in the abandoned tunnels of NYC’s subway system. The living conditions of these people are unbelievable. They live in complete darkness in small makeshift shacks. Yet some of them have carved out a nice little niche for themselves, complete with meager appliances and the electricity they use to run their naked lightbulbs and small hotplates. Many aspects of this life mirror the social structure that we above-grounders enjoy. There are feuds and relationships, people have pets and set up security systems around their homes. But as you might guess, this kind of living is illegal, and many of these people are driven out of the tunnels by law enforcement.

Some more tunnel-dwellers who take us into their homes

Some more tunnel-dwellers who take us into their homes

I was happy to see that Dark Days made its way back to the Netflix Instant Streaming list. Do yourself a favor and check this one out before Netflix pulls it again. (Actually, I just found it here, on YouTube, but sometimes those get taken down as well).

Spring Breakers (2013)

12 Apr

spring-breakers_new-poster_topslice

One more bucket list item completed: To see movies by my favorite and most-beloved directors in the theater when they come out. I dove into the finish line with this one, because I didn’t expect theaters in Asheville, NC to stop playing it in its third week running. When I went to look up the weekend showtimes yesterday, I discovered that it would be showing in first-run theaters one last time, last night. So for the spring-breakers-IGN-poster-debut-610x903first time since Moonrise Kingdom, I shelled out the ridiculous rate of $20.50 for two movie tickets. Perhaps what is more ridiculous is that I have a movie blog but don’t pay full-price very often to see new movies, but that shit ‘spensive, y’all. I am happy that maybe two dollars out of that ridiculous sum made its way into Harmony Korine’s hands, because Spring Breakers did not disappoint me in the least.

When I say that Spring Breakers is Korine’s most accessible film, I do not mean to condemn him for “selling out,” nor do I mean to say that most mainstream Americans could stomach this movie or pick up on its subtle message(s). This film occupies an uncomfortable limbo that I love that is between mainstream and totally “out there.” And I want everyone to see it. But then again, I still want everyone to see Gummo and that movie is certainly not conventional or remotely comfortable for 98% of the population. This movie is so much like Gummo, but because it is more accessible, I think it is more easily digested. When I say it’s like Gummo, what I mean this: Korine is famous for presenting uncomfortable or unbelievable characters, but believe me you, these EXACT people exist. In the hundreds. From

My favorite Spring Breakers promo material, snagged off of lostinthemultiplex.com, but I can't seem to find the original artist.

My favorite Spring Breakers promo material, snagged off of lostinthemultiplex.com, but I can’t seem to find the original artist.

Xenia, OH (Gummo); from weird-ass St. Petersburg, Florida (Spring Breakers); yeah, they’re real.

I avoided reviews of this little gem before seeing it, because I wanted it to be fresh when I finally caught it in the theater. I had read some murmurings on Facebook from friends whose opinions I respect that it was a fantastic movie, so that eased the doubts I had after seeing the trailer some months ago. These doubts may have returned in the first few minutes of the film, which were filled with beer-soaked, bouncing, spring break titties and lines of irritating dialogue from college coeds about how much their lives would suck if they didn’t go on the adventure of a lifetime by going on spring break. But I soon realized the underlying message of all of the “annoying” parts of the movie (like James Franco’s character, Alien, whom I couldn’t stand at first but then I learned to absolutely love him), and I turned to embrace this ironic commentary.

Riff Raff on the left, Franco to the right

Riff Raff on the left, who was the inspiration for Alien (Franco) on the right. (Source: animalnewyork.com)

No spoilers from me -like I said, I benefited from coming at the movie with a fresh outlook. But even from the trailer you’ll know that four Disney starlets (technically three plus Korine’s wife) go on spring break and get into some unsavory activities unbefitting of their reputations. They meet Allen, a.k.a. Alien, who is James Franco’s hilarious rendition of a Florida gangsta white boy, (inspired by this guy) and they all get into some more shenanigans. I laughed a ton throughout this movie, mostly at Alien’s antics and because he reminds me of someone I know (I’ll never tell…)

Please go see this movie in any capacity you can. Keep an open mind and try to put your annoyance at the beginning of the movie on the back burner. While I don’t condone the actions of these spring breakers, I kind of want to jump up and down on a bed in my bikini wielding a gun after seeing the movie. I think I’ll settle for finally getting to read some other reviews, starting with our dearly departed Roger Ebert, though just maybe I’ll go fill my pink squirt gun with some rum. Spring break 4ever bitches.

Stroszek (1976)

1 Mar

Stroszek coverIt is a pleasure to review one of my favorite foreign films by one of my favorite directors, Werner Herzog. Stroszek is a poetic Herzog take on the American Dream as an unattainable myth for immigrants to the US. There are many subtle laughs along the way, but overall the movie leaves you with heartache on behalf of the title character and his attempt to improve his life by starting anew in the US.

While it is not a documentary, Herzog based this story on Bruno S., the actor who plays the title character, and there are several scenes that are shot in his actual tiny apartment. Herzog has a knack for picking out interesting human subjects to showcase in his movies. And although not based on the true story of one particular German immigrant, it isn’t hard to imagine the story that unfolds as one that is based in the reality of those who immigrate to the US these days.

The film introduces us to Stroszek as he is being released from jail where he was serving a short stint for some drunken misconduct of stroszek-Brunosome sort. He is released and heads straight to the nearest bar to pick up where he left off. Stroszek is motivated to leave his native Germany when he and his lady-friend, Eva, are both tormented and abused by her pimps. The two of them set off for Wisconsin with Bruno’s elderly neighbor, Mr. Scheitz, in search of the American dream. In the states, however, they are met only with obstacles and people who either take advantage of them or simply don’t understand them.

"Can't stop the dancin' chicken."

“Can’t stop the dancin’ chicken.”

I have a penchant for melancholy movies, and Stroszek is one of the best. This is a must see in my book; it is a movie that graces my current Top 10 list.

P.S. If you listen to Ratatat, you may recognize a sample from this film in the song, Drugs. ^^^Please watch that music video, it’s hilarious. It practically had me in tears of laughter when I saw them perform at Camp Bisco 10.

Koko: A Talking Gorilla (1978)

24 Feb
Koko and Penny back in the day

Koko and Penny back in the day

Yes, this might stray from my typical taste in controversial and artistic documentaries, but I came across this documentary after stumbling through a maze of YouTube videos on Koko the gorilla spurned by this video that wimp.com posted earlier this month. I started to watch the documentary, which is posted in its entirety on YouTube, thinking that I would grow tired of it before long, but I didn’t.

What really kept me engaged throughout a documentary on a gorilla that knows sign language was not the title character at all. It was actually Penny Patterson, Koko’s researcher and caretaker, who caught my interest. Penny plays a major role in this documentary without being the focus. She is treated as

A more recent photo of Koko and Penny

A more recent photo of Koko and Penny

an auxiliary character, someone the documentary may have left out had Koko truly been able to speak to the cameras for herself. But quick snippets about Penny made me interested in her life -or lack thereof. It seemed to me that she has made many personal sacrifices in order to dedicate her life to Koko. It seemed sad to me because I live a life that thrives on human relationships; interestingly enough, Penny does not seem to feel that she is missing out on anything.

Koko: A Talking Gorilla is not a mind-blowing documentary that exposes dark truths, but there are still some underlying messages and unanswered questions that arise after watching it. While these cater more to an animal rights message, there is still a secret human interest piece present. It makes me want to watch more documentaries from the 60’s and 70’s to see if they are all so much different from modern-day docs. It definitely seems more polished and candy-coated than the ones I am privy to. If you have any suggestions of older documentaries that you have enjoyed, I would love to have your input. The only one that comes to mind is Grey Gardens, which I should be writing a review about sometime soon.

Biutiful (2010)

22 Feb

BiutifulOne of Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu’s newer films, Biutiful is not for beginners of his work. I recommend starting with Babel and working your way through to 21 Grams and Amores Perros to decide if you like his style. Like these other movies, Biutiful delves into the dark and unpleasant corners of humanity by focusing on themes like death, clashing cultures, and the gritty realities of life.

In this film, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a single father,  (’cause Mom’s cray),who makes his living through black market dealings and illegal immigrant labor. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Uxbal spends most of the movie confronting his wrong-doings and getting his affairs in order so that his children will be taken care after he is gone. While slow-moving at parts, this film really picks up momentum as it goes, much like an impending countdown to one’s own death.

An interesting dynamic comes through as it is revealed at the beginning that Uxbal is also a medium who can communicate with the recently deceased. It led to some incredibly haunting scenes that had I couldn’t shake, even long after the movie was over.

Witness to Jonestown (2008)

17 Feb

Witness to JonestownEven if you are not familiar with the story of the Jonestown Massacre, it is probable that you have heard of the metaphor, “Drinking the Kool Aid.” This metaphor refers to people blindly following a belief or philosophy, and like most metaphors, comes from a very literal event that once took place. While some contribute this saying to the Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters Acid Tests of the 1960’s, its more sinister referent is the Jonestown Massacre, during which 900+ people in a group known as the People’s Temple drank a lethal concoction of Kool Aid and cyanide led by their religious leader, Rev. Jim Jones. (Not to be confused with Brian Jonestown Massacre or this guy).

I believe in Jim Jones

Rev. Jim Jones founded the People’s Temple on a message of brother- and sisterhood that spanned all races and creeds.

While the story itself is unsettling and confusing, this movie adds to that feeling. It is easy to disassociate from the horror that is 900 people allegedly committing group suicide. I have always dismissed it as a cult full of mentally unstable people who made a decision that no rational-minded human being would make: to end their own lives and the lives of their family members at the behest of a maniac. But it becomes all too real when you hear the testimonials of the few members of People’s Temple who survived, witness the tense conditions at their commune in the jungle leading up to the moment that the Kool Aid was pushed upon the members of People’s Temple, and see the footage of the aftermath where piles of corpses include babies and children.

jonestown victims

A fraction of the more than 900 people who ended their lives in Jonestown, Guyana, some willingly and some forcibly.

This isn’t even the first documentary I have seen on the subject of the People’s Temple and the Jonestown Massacre, but it is the best one that I have seen. I assume that because it is an NBC made for TV movie, it contains exclusive footage that could not be found elsewhere, including some of the last moments of Jim Jones’ drug-addled mental unravelling at the People’s Temple compound in Guyana, and audio footage of the actual mass “suicide,” which still haunts me.

I still can’t imagine finding myself in the situation in which members of the People’s Temple found themselves, but hearing the surviving members speak of their experiences sheds a beam of light on the murky history of Jonestown and the People’s Temple. What is more disturbing and even less clear coming out of the movie are the motivations Jim Jones’ disturbed desire to exercise such lethal control over nearly one thousand people who loved and trusted him.