This month: “All of Me”, “CB4”, “The Clouds of Sils Maria”, “Down to Earth”, “The DUFF”, “I Think I Love My Wife”, “In Her Shoes”, “The Late Shift”, “Ned Rifle”, “Suicide Club”, “Tomorrowland: A World Beyond” (pictured above), “Top Five” and “Wolfsburg”.
I’ve written things elsewhere including a recollection of “8 ½ films inspired by 8 ½”, a post-match analysis of “When footballers try acting”, a nostalgic look at “1960s cinema in Mad Men”, an interview with “Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy on directing The Tribe”, a rundown of “Hip-hop cameos in comedy” and something on “A girl skateboards home alone at night”.
The average rating is 5.69/10 with film of the month being the one I’m writing about a librarian who’s replaced by a computer, so becomes her flatmate’s hip-hop sidekick. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
All of Me (1984) – 6.5/10
Director: Carl Reiner
Writers: Henry Olek, Phil Alden Robinson, Edwin Davis (novel)
Starring: Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Victoria Tennant
“I never liked your dog, and jazz is stupid.”
Martin’s forgotten collaboration with Reiner is plainly odd, not just in the zany throwaway sense of The Jerk, but in its disjointed sweetness. Part of the jumbled tone is a body-switch whereby a lawyer, Roger (Martin), is partially taken over by the spirit of a wealthy comedy weirdo, Edwina (Tomlin). However, in different ways, they both wish to get inside the young body of Terry (Tennant).
While there’s unexpected pathos in Edwina’s loneliness, even if contrived for whenever Roger to step in front of a mirror, Reiner is a gag lover more at ease in slapstick court scenes – notably how Martin foreshadows Liar Liar and a Jens Lekman EP by arguing with himself. The weirdness persists, delving into metaphysical territory that takes its own rules seriously – the ones actually set – with a magical jug of water pouring away emotions, despite the Trojan horse aesthetic of a dated period drama. Sure, some of its very 80s, but the surreal sappiness is a joy.
CB4 (1983) – 6/10
Director: Tamra Davis
Writers: Chris Rock, Nelson George, Robert LoCash
Starring: Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Chris Elliott
“You just think you’re smart cos you can read.”
The distinction is in how hair metal outfits like Spinal Tap are, at worst, treated with ridicule, unlike the pseudo-racism towards hip-hop. For instance, when a conservative politician witnesses his son singing along to CB4, he pushes for an obscenity charge and holds a press conference to announce, “Through rap culture we have a demon culture that must be stopped.” After a series of leading questions from journalists, MC Gusto retorts, “I’m tired of these black questions. Why don’t you ask Michael J. Fox what he’s doing for yuppies?”
More thoughts can be read here.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2015) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz
“I’m trying to consider genetics from a more human point of view.”
Freaky Friday is ostensibly a comedy, but prolonged for 20 years, it’s a tragedy (despite the mathematics of comedy equals time plus tragedy). The latter treatment is in store for Maria (La Binoche), an actress lauded with fame as an 18-year-old in Maloja Snake – a fictional play about a love affair between two women separated by two decades in age, lightly touching upon Fassbinder’s Petra von Kant – only to find the roles dry up as she approaches middle age.
Older and wiser Maria may be, but auditions don’t require IQ tests. In fact, too much intellect interferes with greenscreen compatibility. When asked to take the more age-appropriate role for a revival of Maloja Snake, she requires convincing: it’s a step towards planning your own funeral, chucking away the 17-25 railcard, and recognising that melodramatic hyperbole is part of a blogger’s self-obsessed life.
What spins Maria’s wheels is the arrival of her willing assistant, Valentine (Stewart), who assists with line readings, blurring the division between performance and mundane small talk, and wonders out loud that she’s not needed. If the answer lies in the text, no one’s prepared to admit it out loud.
Assayas toys with meta elements throughout, beyond the casting choices that reflect upon Stewart’s work with Twilight and Binoche’s entire career. At times, it’s unclear whether the pair are reciting dialogue, or having it out at a Sils Maria retreat that may as well be a secluded stage. They’re always performing, to some extent, as a form of therapy, the kind in which you’re asked what advice you wish you knew 20 years ago. Life imitates art, even within art, and envelops actors shackled by defining roles.
And a special mention is required for Stewart vomiting to the driving rhythms of Primal Scream’s ‘Kowalski’. It’s a moment that’s every age at once, like all of us.
Down to Earth (2001) – 3.5/10
Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Writers: Louis CK, Lance Crouther, Ali LeRoi, Chris Rock
Starring: Chris Rock, Regina King, Mark Addy
“Our father was so cheap, when we went to bed, he unplugged the clocks.”
Rock’s reincarnation as a wealthy white businessman raises several questions absent from any film in 1941. For example, if you look like Rupert Murdoch and rap DMX lyrics (with the N-word) in public, you will be socked in the face. When Rock recites his old routines in his new look, crowds understandably turn on him because comedy is about punching up; when wealthy conservatives leap on the riff, it’s just bullying. Disheartened, he donates millions to charity and makes a concerted effort to treat other races and classes with respect. So there is goodness within humanity – it just requires a supernatural occurrence for it to happen.
Further thoughts can be read here.
The DUFF (2015) – 4/10
Director: Ari Sandel
Writers: Josh A. Cagan, Kody Keplinger (novel)
Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne
“You think a football team runs on a field without a strategy? If you want to make out, you’ve gotta think ahead.”
Everyone has a “Designated Ugly Fat Friend”. If you don’t, then that means it’s you. Or maybe it’s another flimsy acronym stretched for an entire “FILM”. Whereas G.B.F smartly deconstructed its own titular invention, right down to its gay protagonist taking offence at being pigeonholed, The DUFF hits all the familiar beats by implying it’s best for funny weirdoes – in this case, Mae Whitman – to suppress any individuality in order to have a shot at winning over the handsome jock.
I Think I Love My Wife (2007) – 7/10
Director: Chris Rock
Writers: Louis CK, Chris Rock, Éric Rohmer (original screenplay)
Starring: Chris Rock, Kerry Washington, Gina Torres, Steve Buscemi
“You lose a lot of money chasing women, but you’ll never lose a lot of women chasing money.”
If you’ve ever thought Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales needed a few more jokes – specifically crass one involving Viagra – then Chris Rock’s remake of Love in the Afternoon might be the enticing new distraction hovering around your office. Just as film consensus is married to Rohmer’s original, Rock instils a fiery take that couples his stand-up persona (I’m positive some of the voiceover is taken directly from an HBO special) with a demonstration of what happens when French cinema is transferred to LA: you have Steve Buscemi gruffly dishing out relationship advice, moments before he’s taking an intern to a nearby hotel.
Although Louis CK seems almost embarrassed in interviews by his involvement, it’s certainly more entertaining – and possibly thought-provoking – than Pootie Tang and Tomorrow Night. Rock is evidently sinking into a new restrained role, adorning glasses in a straight role that plays jokes off his inability to be a party animal. It’s not wholly convincing, especially by how quickly his interior monologue switches into the gear of Bring the Pain, but it’s still a worthy addition to Six Moral Tales.
Further thoughts here.
In Her Shoes (2005) – 3/10
Director: Curtis Hanson
Writers: Susannah Grant, Jennifer Weiner (novel)
Starring: Toni Collette, Cameron Diax
“This, from a girl who puts a postage stamp on her back and calls it a swimsuit.”
I watched it in preparation for The Cobbler.
The Late Shift (1996) – 3.5/10
Director: Betty Thomas
Writers: George Armitage, Bill Carter
Starring: John Michael Higgins, Daniel Roebuck, Kathy Bates
“Gentlemen, we are just going from one bizarre circumstance to the next.”
A bit disappointing, given the years of folklore – brought up again by the Conan debacle, and Letterman’s upcoming retirement – that built up something akin to what Letterman expected before Carson retired. The goofiness of the impressions is funny to an extent, but doesn’t make up for the dramatic bathos of Leno hiding in a cupboard to eavesdrop on a phone call.
Ned Rifle (2015) – 6/10
Director/Writer: Hal Hartley
Starring: Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza, Thomas Jay Ryan, Parker Posey, James Urbankiak
“I don’t read poetry. I read what really matters.”
Despite ponying up for the Kickstarter campaign, it took a while for me to see Ned Rifle upon its availability. That’s where I stand: I’m more invested in a new Hal Hartley film existing, than actually a burning desire to see it.
Completing the Henry Fool trilogy nobody expected, Ned Rifle continues the trajectory of the kid (played by a now grown up Liam Aiken), who’s eager to exact revenge upon his father, Henry (Ryan), following the incarceration of his mother, Fay (Posey). Whereas Fay Grim built upon an underused supporting character in Henry Fool, was anyone particularly eager to discover how messed up the kid from Fay Grim would be?
Ned is an amiable Hartley lead, mostly playing it straight in a circus of deadpan performers, whose spotlight is stolen by Susan – Aubrey Plaza, who nails Hartley’s dialogue with sardonic precision – and her meta energy. As a part-time film critic, Susan has grown up obsessed with Ned’s family (which led to her being an on/off psychiatric patient) and suggests following the narrative is the act of an outsider who doesn’t belong in the mainstream.
Much of Ned Rifle, as bizarre as it sounds, is fan service. And considering it required Kickstarter for funding, that makes sense. Aside from Susan, most of the brief running time is spent reintroducing the cast and repeating familiar beats. In terms of writing, Harley’s style hasn’t shifted too much across the years, sticking firmly to a joke structure of overwritten conversations that underplay traumatising events, but visually it’s the work of a director on a decreasing budget. For fans only – after all, they did pay for it.
Suicide Club (2001) – 6.5/10
Director/Writer: Sion Sono
Starring: Ryô Ishibashi, Masatoshi Nagase, Akaji Maro
“So, together it’s the skin of about 200 people?”
Peer pressure is generally a good thing, I think, because everyone succumbs to it. That’s also sort of the case with Sono’s breakout festival success – at least in drumming up controversy – about a series of unexplained suicides in Japan. Happy, smiling schoolgirls leap in front of a train; first scene done. It’s grimmer than Groucho Marx – I wouldn’t want to be part of a suicide club that would have me as a member.
Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015) – 5/10
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, Jeff Jensen (story)
Starring: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Raffey Cassidy, Hugh Laurie
UK Theatrical release: 22 May 2015
Scrolling through news stories is a daily reminder that civilisation is terrible and our planet is doomed. Being part of humanity’s failure is, some might say, a comfort: an excuse to give up. The solution, according to Tomorrowland, is dreamers. The world needs more dreamers because otherwise life is but a… whatever the opposite of dream is.
Brad Bird presents a world where school teachers inform students they’ll grow up in a dystopia, before explaining to bored pupils what the word means. Only Casey (Britt Robertson), a rare optimist, dares ask in class how global warming and overpopulation can be saved. She receives no explanation, which continues a trend in Tomorrowland whereby the frenetic action unfolds without much obvious purpose.
After she touches a magical token, Casey is transported to another world, Tomorrowland, that suggests utopia is a fancy airport surrounded by a field from any Terrence Malick film. Still, Tomorrowland is a vivid fantasy; coming across as an advert for a perfect life you’ll never experience, its sci-fi avenues whoosh past as Casey zips around outdoor swimmers and hoverboards, before returning to her boring real life.
How can she get back? The holders to that answer are the handsomest ever recluse Frank (George Clooney), and young robot girl Athena (Raffey Cassidy) – the latter nailing with Haley Joel Osment levels of creepiness an android wishing it was human, despite witnessing mankind’s many faults. But they keep holding back the information, annoyingly, without Casey badgering them too much.
Subsequently, much of the film concerns Casey as an action hero who doesn’t understand why she’s being chased by killer robots – until the exposition-heavy conversations towards the end, meaning it lands somewhere between a kids-friendly action film and patronising lecture (much of which is nonsense).
But before that lengthy explanation, it’s a dizzyingly fun ride with upside-down sequence that at times could be a live-action version of The Incredibles. For the first half, anyway, the 5-minute chunks of action that accumulate are exhilarating: Casey leaps between various frying pans, only pausing for Frank and Athena to play pointless riddles and crack atrocious jokes. It’s vibrant entertainment that promises an ingenious backstory that never delivers. But until the disappoint hits, it teases big ideas with big set-pieces; it’s not such a small world after all.
Top Five (2015) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Chris Rock
Starring: Chris Rock, Gabrielle Union, Rosario Dawson
“It’s always good to make sure you never get too good at only one thing.”
Scratch your favourite five Morrissey songs on my arm with a fountain pen to show you really love The Smiths. Or if that’s not your bag, then maybe your five favourite gags from Top Five – Chris Rock’s version of Annie Hall.
Written on the set of Grown Ups 2 in a quest of self-improvement, Top Five is the first time Chris Rock has delivered a film that touches upon the vitriol and edge he usually reserves for HBO. He’s also brought the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Tracy Morgan along for the New York cab ride.
The musical quality is embedded by a cameo from DMX and a professed love for hip hop (as referenced in the title), which keeps the comedy highly energised. Rock is in control, bringing the pain, with a simple story about a stand-up interviewed by a journalist.
But what drags down the potential are clumsy subplots that disrupt Rock’s rhythm, like a waiter yelling drink orders at an open mic night just before a comic’s punchline. Still, he’s always fascinating in what was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and hopefully he’ll continue to open up onscreen – perhaps with some assistance from a Marshall Brickman.
Wolfsburg (2003) – 7/10
Director/Writer: Christian Petzold
Starring: Benno Fürmann, Nina Hoss, Astrid Meyerfeldt
“Does jumping into water mean that you’re free of any guilt.”
Philipp (Fürmann) is the car salesman with the profession’s stereotypical sliminess, but not the sense of humour. When his car accidentally knocks into a young boy on a bike (like a Smiths song), the film is set in motion: Philipp speeds off unscathed, the child dies a few days later. Despite a cold exterior, the accidental killer momentarily resolves his guilt via verbally confessing the crime to himself (and staying eerily silent around his suspicious girlfriend).
When Philipp burrows his way into the life of the boy’s mother Vera (Hoss), Petzold presents a fragile relationship built upon an unspoken connection: all that’s on their mind is the hit-and-run incident. It’s why hashtags were invented on Twitter, to bring together like-minded strangers with mutual interests. His impulses are selfish and selfless; she sees in him a distraction from suicidal urges. Sometimes what you’re looking for is right under your nose
Follow @halfacanyon for more.