Thursday, January 30, 2014

There is something fishy going on here.

At the dawn of my teaching career, I was in intern for an entire academic year. I would report to the same elementary school every single day, not knowing my fate. Maybe I'd sub in 4th grade, or maybe help the gym teacher. Maybe I'd observe Mrs. Szwed in her third grade class, or possibly attend the 1st grade team meeting. But in the middle of that year, all the maybes took a two-week vacation. One of the teachers had been in a car accident, and I was going to cover her class for ten consecutive days. Morning and afternoons. Fifteen children in each section.

I was going to teach kindergarten.

Teaching kindergarten, as a man, is dangerous business. Most people, when you tell them that's what you're doing, will smile and make a Kindergarten Cop reference and not give it a second thought. But let me assure you, having a kid stand up and say 'boys have a penis, girls have a vagina' is funny and not all that serious. But what little Karla says, is the direct opposite.

The Hunt, nominated this year for Best Foreign Picture, is the best movie I will never watch again. In fact, I hated almost every f--king minute of it. It's not that it's bad, actually, it's impossibly compelling. But it's also as frustrating and upsetting as anything I've ever seen. And for me, all too possible.

Mads Mikkelsen, an ass-kicking Dane, plays the quietly charming Lucas. This guy, by all accounts (minus his ex-wife's, perhaps), is kind and good-natured dude. Loved by his friends and adored by the children he works with, Lucas appears to be someone on the cusp of having it all finally come together, after going through a recent rough patch. Unfortunately, after a confused (and scorned) little girl wrongly accuses him of sexual abuse, everything he knows comes crashing down around him.

Don't kick that can down the road.

Ever since we left the hospital with our daughter, my wife and I have lived in a permanent state of unyielding chaos. But through it all, there has been a singular constant: movie night (oh, and our insatiable love for one another, I guess). Our movie night tradition, though steadily decreasing in frequency, has been without surprise for over a decade. Formulaic, almost. After settling in, it goes something like this:

Her: Do we have anything funny or romantic to watch?
Me: I was thinking something with subtitles. Or a thriller. Maybe even a subtitled thriller.
Her: (pretending to consider this) Nah. Are there any good romantic comedies out?

She says that last line as if yes is a possible answer. I start to half-heartedly flip through the collection or scroll through On-Demand or Netflix. Then it happens. The words that are about to be uttered will surely doom both of us.

Her: Oh, what's that one with Jennifer Aniston? Is that supposed to be any good?

Now we both know how this is going to end. She'll hang in for about twenty minutes, maybe more because of Aniston's presence. She will then slip in to a mild coma, leaving me to finish the movie I never wanted to see alone and irritated. She will wake up the exact moment I hastily click off the television. 
Her: How was it? Was it any good?

In a word, no. The Swtich, starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman is not good. But even worse, it, like many a movie night at the Brown house, lacks anything remotely surprising. If you've seen the trailer, you know how this movie is going to end. Hell, if you can see that poster to the left, you know how this movie is going to end. You also know that this movie is incredibly stupid, insultingly bland, and not worth the 101 minutes required to finish it.

But if for some reason you missed the trailer, or somehow can't see that poster to the left, let me break it down for you (or the person reading this aloud to you, in Hell).

Jennifer Aniston, seriously flexing her acting muscles, plays an attractive and likable thirty-something New Yorker named Kassie, who may or may not have a job. Despite being hot as f--k and living in a city with four million dudes, she can't find a guy to bang her out and make a baby. Across the table from this fictional person, is Jason Bateman as Wally. Wally is a whiny, neurotic jerk-off, who has somehow managed to have the sexiest friend in the history of time. Surprising no one, they once had a short-lived fling back in the day (which they are bound to reference in the least-natural way possible), but now are happy just being friends. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The human brain, a lovely piece of hardware.

Imagine there was something wrong with your computer and every single day it deleted ten pictures without alerting you. You couldn't even be angry about it, really, as you'd be completely unaware of what was going on. Eventually, things would get worse, and it would start dumping hundreds at a time, till there were no images left. In a futile attempt to solve the problem, you tried to reload all of them, but it had come to the point where nothing could be saved. And just as you thought about unplugging it (or tossing it off of something very high up), suddenly they were all back, right where you left them.

Now imagine I'm not talking about a computer.

Robot & Frank, the only feature film (so far) from director Jake Schreier, has been resonating within me since the credits rolled almost a week ago. While the story is set in the future, the message and implications are timeless.

Frank, as played by Frank Langella, is initially your typical Movie Old Man. The world is changing around him, and he's not really interested in keeping up. In fact, he's kind of pissed off about it.

As Frank's failing memory appears to worsen, his desperate and overwhelmed son Hunter, is forced to intervene. Hunter's solution to help his father is a robotic caretaker, the not-so cleverly named Robot. Right away (and surprising no one) Frank detests Robot, despite the little guy being incredibly helpful and charming.

Eventually, Frank and Robot become close and their friendship turns into something honest and true. Outwardly, Frank appears to be a bumbling, befuddled old man, recklessly obsessed with previous life as a cat-burglar. But as he gently coerces Robot to aid him in one last heist, Frank's mind is suddenly firing on all cylinders. Thanks to a machine, Frank has become human again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Put on some dry clothes and come play with us.

Not including the three by marriage, I have six uncles. One Bob, two Bills, a Peter, and a set of Mikes. My relationship varies up and down the line, but it's safe to say I love each of these guys. And, I'm assuming, they feel the same way about me, too. But, don't get me wrong. The extent of this affection goes only so far. Maybe a birthday ten-spot, or a ride to the airport.  Not, say...a lifetime of undying devotion and morbid fascination.

Stoker, the latest from director Chan-wook Park, is a rather unique experience. Taking place over a couple of days, the film revolves around the mysterious arrival of long-lost Uncle Charlie. Charlie is brother to the recently-deceased father of India, the young protagonist featured on the poster to the right.

India, newly 18, is an introverted young girl with enhanced powers of perception. She's not quite a candidate for Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters or anything, she's simply a girl who due to her overwhelming shyness, has developed the ability to sense things more acutely than the rest of us.

While India may be slightly off, Uncle Charlie is totally f--ked up. Look beyond the radiant smile, glowing eyes and Norman Rockwell attire, and it's all too apparent that this dude ain't quite right. Then again, I'm not a lonely woman who just the man in her life. Them bitches love this mofo.

In the deft hands of Chan-wook Park, Stoker comes alive. Constant visual cues and camera movements make an interesting premise damn near captivating. Now it's not the glorious mindf--k that Oldboy is (though, what is?), but it's still quietly insane. Even if you can see the twists coming, it's still a blast watching it all come together, even if there's some heartbreaking madness along the way.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I was hooked in seconds.

Yesterday, it was announced that Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers signed a contract extension for 7 years, paying him a total of $215 million dollars. That's an average of $30.7 million dollars per year. Or based, on his career stats thus far, Kershaw will take home just under 9 thousand dollars a pitch. It doesn't even have to be a good one. Immediately, the thought crossed my mind to wake up my sleeping four-year old, head out back, and have him start throwing left-handed fastballs. But baseball's hard. You have to like, practice and stuff. I wish there was a way to make millions and millions of dollars a year doing something a lot less taxing. Something I could actually teach him... spewing non-stop bullshit with the greatest of conviction, perhaps? Hey, wait a second.
I do that all the time.

The Wolf of Wall Street, despite being set over twenty years ago, seemingly tells the modern version of the American Dream. Or at least the one presented on bad TV. Generations ago, it was work hard, get married, buy a house, have some kids and retire. Now? It seems the dream has become more of get filthy-ass rich at all costs, whether or not you have any discernible talent, while giving a huge f--k about the immediate future.

That assessment, as admittedly shortsighted as it may be, also does a bit of a disservice to Wolf's real-life protagonist, Jordan Belfort. Played by the ageless Leonardo DiCaprio, Jordan is a talented individual, well, as much as an actual shark has talent, anyway (an extremely handsome shark, no less). From the moment he's taken under the wing of veteran stockbroker Mark Hanna (a hysterical Matthew McConaughey), Jordan absolutely refuses to let anything stop him or even slow him down. It's an amazing quality that makes him admirable, even if he's essentially a huge f--king scumbag. But if you can manage to sit through Martin Scorcese's latest film and not find yourself liking/rooting for Leo's Jordan, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you a dollar. No, scratch that. I'll buy you three shares of Delcath Systems Inc (DCTH). It's currently trading at 29 cents a share. But it's going to be huge. Trust me.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Take good care of her, Frank.

I grew up in the eighties and had two older brothers. While that doesn't really mean anything at all, it does mean I've seen all the quintessential slasher flicks ever produced. In my formative years, no less. Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy and particularly Chucky were our favorites. We'd wear out the VHS tapes pausing, rewinding, and even slo-moing the bloody kills (and the occasional nude scene as well, if they were running things). And outside of the occasional creepy shaky cam shot with accompanying ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma, we always watched the killer. We never were the killer, right?

I mean, in my day, we had to use our imaginations.

Ah, modern horror. As generations of kids (and adults, I suppose) grow up on increasingly better looking video games, it appears the stakes have been raised exponentially in the horror genre. In the 2012 flick Maniac, we are treated to a film shot almost entirely in first person. While that may not sound like anything to you savvy folks, as a crotchety old guy in his mid-thirties, Maniac was a startling reminder of not only how far we've come, but how far we're willing to go.

I know, I know, I'm already annoying myself, but watching an entire slasher flick in first person kinda f--ked me up a little bit. Sure, it's a bit silly and not very scary, but it's also pretty f--king brutal, too. Seeing someone stabbed under their chin and through their open mouth can be a bit startling, sure. But seeing it in full first-person glory? Damn. And that's just the moment before the title card.

Technically, Maniac is very cool. The camera work and special effects are top shelf, to say the least. But, when you strip away the inspired insanity of actually being the guy cutting bitches up, I found myself not really giving a shit  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Everything cool is gone.

As logistically impossible as it is, I've always been fascinated with the concept of time travel. If given the chance to go back in time, I've got the year and month figured out - January 1999. Almost fifteen years ago to the day, one of my best friends died in a very tragic, yet very preventable way. At the time, and perhaps here, a decade and a half later, it's been the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with. He was a great person, and an even better friend. If I could, I'd go back and fix that. Without question.

In the 2012 flick Safety Not Guaranteed, a guy puts an ad in the local paper requesting a partner to travel back in time with. Initially, a desperate reporter and his under-appreciated interns seek this supposed town wackjob out, to ultimately make fun of his endeavor. But eventually, surprising no one, the whole trip turns into something much, much different for everyone involved. Even me.

While not overly funny, sincere or dramatic, Safety Not Guaranteed still completely charmed me. Most of that falls on lead actor Mark Duplass and his portrayal of the time-traveling goodball, Kenneth. Duplass plays the budding Marty McFly with a level of innocence and likability that for whatever reason really resonated with me. Sure, Kenneth is essentially an (infinitely) less-douchey Dwight from The Office (rather steadfast in his personal lunacy), but despite being an overwhelming outsider he's very protective and caring. And as he gets closer to Rebecca Hall's Aubrey Plaza's Darius, he appears borderline desirable. A real catch, even. Pretty surprising, considering the fact that Kenneth is utterly batshit crazy. Um, I think.

Friday, January 10, 2014

You dropped these.

You youngsters/cool kids might not remember it, but there used to be this sweet cartoon called Ducktales. It had all the hallmarks of animated greatness: action, adventure, incompetent villains, identical triplets, Scottish fowl - you name it. There was this one particular episode that consumed my imagination as a kid. A device was invented that froze time and allowed its users to move about freely while the rest of the world was standing still (technically, they were moving at regular pace, but anyway...). Huey, Dewey and Lewey used it to win a baseball game, which as a nine year old boy, seemed like the best possible use of such a device.

I now know better.

Cashback surprised me. I had never heard of the movie til I was doing a little research for my t-shirt giveaway. I was searching for classic nude scenes to alter when I came across this list. Long (and pathetic) story short, I decided to add this flick to my Netflix queue based solely on salacious reasons. But that's not why I'm recommending you check it out. Well, not the only reason anyway...

The story is charmingly simple. Ben, a young art student, gets dumped and as a result, has lost the ability to sleep. He decided to trade his idle time for the overnight shift at a grocery store. Turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the graveyard shift is full of some odd characters. But our main man Ben? Well, he might be the oddest.

In the section of the movie I loved the most (well, outside the glorious nudity), Ben details the lengths that each employee goes to to make the the time fly by. Each person's trick is increasingly bizarre, but as someone currently getting paid to watch others work I devoured these bits. Anyway, young Ben has come up with the best trick of all. He has discovered that, for him, time goes fastest when it is frozen. Yes, rather unbelievable (yet portrayed convincingly) Ben can freeze time.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Time to meet the Devil.

When we watch movies, especially good ones, we're supposed to feel something, right? If the characters are desperate, we should feel that longing, that urgency. If they're in love, we should feel the connection and passion they have for one another. Whatever it is, whatever the emotion, it should resonate within the audience. It should mean something. But what if the characters are hopeless? What if everything they're doing is pointless? Should we feel that, too?

I don't know what to make of Only God Forgives. I basically hated it, but maybe only because I wanted to love it. 

I had heard all the talk about how shitty it is, how impossibly pretentious it is, but (at the time) it didn't matter. The people saying that were assholes. Those people who booed it at Cannes? F--king morons. This was the follow up to Drive [review], a movie that blindsided me with how f--king cool it was. The fact that I thought that could happen again, only shows who the real asshole is, ya know, the real f--king moron.

According to IMDb, this flick runs exactly 90 minutes, but it felt much longer. Worse, if you were to take out the copious amount of staring (sometimes in slo-motion mind you, for f--k's sake), you could likely knock that runtime down to a solid 65 minutes. Again, if it meant something, fine, f--king stare away. But in the end, it doesn't. It's frustratingly hollow and borderline ridiculous.

The story, what we're given anyway, is pretty straightforward. After a drunken night that ends with the f--king and killing of an underage prostitute, an American scumbag is murdered by the father of the dead girl. Aww. Soon, Dead Guy's mom swoops into town on her broomstick, demanding vengeance for her deceased first born (who, according to mom has a big dick?). She expects her younger, possibly mute, possibly retarded son Julian (posterboy Gosling) to do the dirty work. About that...