Monthly Archives: October 2014

Magic In The Moonlight Review – Just Your Average Woody Allen Feature

Magic In The Moonlight, despite its runtime of 97m, quite typical for director Woody Allen, is a movie that moves at a fairly slow pace. The film feels a little disjointed and seems to be following the recent habit of Woody Allen making one very good picture (for example, Match Point, Vicky Christiana Barcelona, Midnight in Paris, and Blue Jasmine as examples), and followed it up by a rather average or mediocre films (such as Cassandra’s Dream, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, To Rome With Love, etc..). Magic In the Moonlight is a fairly predictable romantic comedy. Colin Firth and Emma Stone, have good chemistry between each other, but ultimately the film left me unimpressed.

Like most of Allen’s recent films, Magic In The Moonlight is set in a foreign country, France, specifically the French Riviera. The film is at least lovely to look at, and tells the story of a famous illusionist named Stanley Crawford (played by Colin Firth), who has spent his life revealing fake spiritualists. Enlisted by his best friend Howard, (played by Simon McBurney), he goes to the French Riviera, where a rich family has been taken in by a spiritualist named Sophie (played by Emma Stone), and her scheming mother (played by Marcia Gay Harden. Stanley plans to expose Sophie as a fake, but after seeing her abilities in action, he actually starts to believe that she may be actually be able to communicate with the spirit world, and even stranger, he may actually be falling for her.

One of the things I appreciated about this film, was Allen’s use of classical songs and scores. Instead of going for an original score composed by someone, Allen instead chose, songs from the 1930’s and 1940’s, written by Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, William Jerome, as well, classical pieces such as Igor Stravinsky’s The Adoration of The Earth, as performed by The London Festival Orchestra. The best scenes in the film are when the soundtrack is in full force, such as, at the beginning of the film with the magician scene which has nothing but music in it, or the scene where Stanley opens his eyes and gets out of his bed. Those kinds of scenes are when Magic In The Moonlight actually becomes magical.

Despite this though Colin Firth and Emma Stone both give solid performances. I was particular impressed by Firth’s performance after he started to believe that Sophie was a true spiritualist. He truly seems excited, which is a change from his original character, who seemed to be a bit of a jerk.

Like all of Allen’s films, there’s also a fine supporting cast, including Marcia Gay Harden as Sophie’s mother, Hamish Linklater as Sophie’s fiancé, Jackie Weaver as the fiancé’s mother, Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s aunt Vanessa. All of these actors give fine performances, but the script itself is rather lackluster, due to its very cliché premise.

Life After Beth Review – A Very Bloody Relationship

Life After Beth is a very, unusual, clever horror romantic comedy, full of wit and a lot of genuine humor. Life After Beth is also a movie with some disturbing scenes, but not enough to change my opinion that this is a genuinely underrated gem. I definitely think this movie deserves more attention than it’s gotten.

Life After Beth tells the story of Zach Orfman (played by Dane DeHaan), whose girlfriend, Beth Slocum (played by Audrey Plaza), died after a hike that led her to a fatal snake bite. This leads Zach and Beth’s parents to be naturally distraught. Zach tries to make friends with Beth’s parents (played John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), but finds, they are now rejecting him for some unusual reason, and are not even answering their own door when he knocks. When Zach sees Beth in the window, while looking at their house, which seems strange to him, he suddenly becomes obsessed with getting into the Slocum’s residents. He manages to sneak in and learns that Beth has somehow been resurrected from the dead. At first Zach is absolutely ecstatic, but Beth’s behavior suddenly becomes erratic, and it soon becomes clear to Zach that his girlfriend, is in fact a zombie, which makes Zach’s relationship with Beth all the more complicated.

Coming into Life After Beth I had no real expectations. I had seen the trailer for Life After Beth and thought it looked really ridiculous, but still, it was an interesting idea, and perhaps they could probably get some comedy out of this plot. However, after having actually seen the film, I can safely say that this movie more than met my expectations. In fact, I would say that Life After Beth is one of 2014’s most underrated and best comedies I’ve seen to date.

Much of what makes this film work is the “black” humor. Like any good horror comedy, death is played up for laughs, and while some of the scenes, left me scratching my head, such as the one when Zach gets home and his brother Kyle tries to shoot him with a gun, having assumed he’s become a zombie, as it is somewhat confusingly directed.

What I think really think helps the film is the acting. As the title character Aubrey Plaza, brings her usual “stupid girl” character to the role of Beth and plays it up here enough, that it becomes quite hilarious. In particular, I was impressed by her during the breakdown scene where she causes a fire to happen near a beach. Her attitude works throughout the film as her character becomes more and more zombie-like, and even starts craving flesh. Even if you haven’t seen the trailer for the film, the movie gives you hints that Beth is a zombie, such as a scene where Beth returns and they do a close-up on her eyes, showing that they have started to become red. Dane DeHaan’s performance is quite good. Having seen him in both Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (where he played Harry Osborne), he comes off as a smug and unlikely bastard. Here his character is supposed to be a bit of an obsessor and a not so terribly bright fella. When his character sees Beth and he starts obsessing and acting crazy, but I genuinely thought that he realistically portrayed a person who had “gone to the dogs”, because he didn’t know if he could trust Beth’s parents anymore. There’s even a scene where he gets knocked unconscious and we see things from his perceptive, as he falls down and everything goes dark. As Beth’s parents, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon play their roles quite well. C. Reilly, in particular, is as an overprotecting father, who hides a dark secret that is revealed much later.  Of the rest of the cast, I will note that I liked Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s older brother Kyle, who goes from being hateful of his brother, to appreciating him as the zombie invasion starts to happen. Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser play Zach and Kyle’s parents, and Anna Kendrick has a small role as an old childhood friend of Zach’s who returns.

The success of Life After Beth has to do with the film’s genuinely crazy and silly tone. Much like another recent horror comedy Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, Life After Beth works because it plays with the typical tropes of a zombie, and uses it for dark laughs. Not expecting much, I found that Life After Beth was definitely entertaining.

Land Ho!: A Review: Two Geezers and a lot of swimming

Land Ho! Is a very pleasant surprise. Coming into the movie, I had zero expectations, since I had never heard of the film prior, and a movie about two old men embarking on a journey through Iceland, sounded like something that could have been boring for me. However, great chemistry between the two leads (Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn), along with an emphasis of character than story, and a lot of very funny but vulgar humor, made Land Ho! was a pleasant surprise for me.

Land Ho! is a film that starts out in The U.S. (the opening scenes were filmed in Kentucky), and winds up going to Iceland after the first fifteen minutes of the film. Telling the story of two brother-in-laws named Mitch (his full name is Leslie Mitchell, but he prefers Mitch because he finds Leslie to be a girl’s name), and Colin, an Australian, who decide to go through Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth. They go through Reykjavik nightclubs, spas, and campsites. This film is supposed to be a throwback to the 1980’s road trip comedies, as well as an exploration of age and friendship. Mitch and Colin are still friends in the film all the way through, despite their differences and arguments.

As mentioned already, Land Ho! is a joy to watch, but what it makes it work is the actor’s chemistry with each other. As played by Nelson and Eenhoorn, Mitch and Colin are believable as old acquaintances and best friends. The two bicker and argue in the film, but they still laugh and have a good time with each other. I especially like the movie references they give (of which the film has plenty of), including Sleepless in Seattle, Rio Bravo and Pretty Woman. Those were fun to hear and catch, as was the rest of the film.

The movie itself is put into three different sequences, referring to where the two are traveling. These include, The Golden Circle, Land Manga, and Laughter. Some of the plot concerns Mitch seeing his younger cousin (who refers to him as uncle, even though they are second cousins), who is visiting Iceland. The other parts of the plot concern Mitch and Colin getting caught up in some wacky shenanigans, like in an assuming scene where the two get lost in the dark after being outside and are trying to get back to their hotel, but can’t see and eventually end up sleeping in the woods at night; very amusing scene.

The humor in Land Ho! comes from the characters interactions with each other. Director and writer team Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens clearly have a good idea on how to create genuine humor. Mitch and Colin, or either one or the other are the focus of the film 100% of the time, which is a good thing, and adds to the humor and interaction. Quotes such as “angels pissing on your tongue” and the use of the words “balls” in a particular scene, had me and the audience cracking up, as we were already enjoying the rest of the film. Another funny scene occurs when Mitch and Colin are in the water swimming around. Colin does his best Johnny Weissmuller Tarzans’ scream impersonation. The film’s dialogue and humor can be very vulgar at times, so it may not be for everyone, even if the film itself is harmless in terms of actual imagery.

Land Ho! is an enjoyable, road adventure comedy. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but as a piece of entertainment, it works extremely well. The actors’ chemistry, along with the humor, helps to make the film enjoyable to watch. You don’t see many road movies like Land-Ho made these days.

The 78 Project Movie Review: An Experiment in Records

The 78 Project Movie is an interesting documentary. Based off an acclaimed web series (which I have not seen), and inspired by Alan Lomax, a man who quested to capture music as it went through the 20th century. The 78 Project Movie is about a journey across America to record some of today’s musical artists as they perform early influential American songs that inspired future songs and artists, trying to record them exactly as they originally were. The 78 Project Movie is an interesting documentary and experiment to watch. It showed me things that I didn’t even know were still around.

The very well done title cards at the beginning immediately got me hooked on The 78 Project Movie. However, one of the most things I found fascinating about the documentary was that it made me realize that traditional records are still popular in certain circles, or at the very least, they are making, a comeback. All of the songs in the film are recorded in the old record way, done in order to match the time period that the original songs were written (30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc…). This gives the film a feel of recognizing the past and giving its’ due due. I must applaud the filmmakers, Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Jones Wright for that, as well the people who on the road trip.

Among the places the two visit include Port Tobacco, Maryland, Arnaudville, LA, among others. We even see the two travel through Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana. This gives the film a feel of a road trip style documentary, as we follow our two filmmakers as they look for artists to record and put on records.

What I especially liked about The 78 Project Movie though was the performers that we got to see. Most of them have nice voices, and even though their appearances are brief, the amount of musical artists that we get to see perform is good. All of the artists are not famous, with most of them being up and coming. Among the artists that perform include such names as John Paul Keith, Ella Mae Bowen of Nashville, John Wilkins, Tom Brosseau and strangely the only name I recognized and who I had no idea was also an actual country singer (his appearance was brief), John C. Reilly, simply credited as John Reilly.

The 78 Project Movie also shows the process of how the 78 mil records are made, something that I didn’t particular find to be all that engaging, but other audience members might. Additionally, we are shown other items throughout various scenes’, such as a tube supplier, instantaneous discs, and dusk jacket discs. While these are the weaker parts of the documentary, items such as the instantaneous discs are very interesting to look at and think about.

The 78 Project Movie is a very low-key documentary with some interesting elements to it. What I especially liked about the film was the various performers that we got to see in the documentary. They brought the voice and energy to a film that probably wouldn’t have interested me otherwise, aside from the eye-catching, well done, opening credits.

Fort McCoy Review

Fort McCoy is based off the true story of a family, known as The Stirns, who lived on Fort McCoy army base in Wisconsin during WWII in the summer of 1944. The main character of the story is Frank Stirn (played by Eric Stoltz) who has become a barber for the Army and for the prisoners of war who also live on the army base. During his time at Fort McCoy, his wife, Ruby, (played by Kate Connor who also co-directed, wrote, and is playing her real life grandmother) becomes threatened by one of the prisoners, a former Nazi SS Officer. In addition, Ruby’s Catholic sister, Anna, (played by Lyndsy Fonseca) takes a job on the base and falls for a Jewish soldier named Sam (played by Andy Hirsch). Sam has returned from the war and is haunted by the battle of Monte Cassino and the death of his best friend. Additionally, the family’s daughter, Gertie (played by Gara Lonning), befriends a German prisoner boy, Werner, against the wishes of her family.

Fort McCoy is by no means a bad movie. Writer, co-director, and co-star, Kate Conner, clearly has intentions to show how her grandparents lived during this difficult period in American history, and the film shows that well. Fort McCoy is a small, low budget, with a limited release, but we do get a good sense of the times in the sets and costumes which are quite good. Frank Stirn struggles with his own inability to enlist, and finds barbering his way of supporting the war effort as best he can.

Eric Stoltz is a fine enough actor, and carries the film, as Kate Conner, is somewhat unknown. The rest of the cast are fine, but, ultimately, it is the horror of war that is brought to life. Fort McCoy is a movie with ambition and has its moments, but the film feels more like a series of vignettes, rather than a full movie, that eventually connects by the end of the film.

The Trip to Italy – Review – I’m Here But I’m Happy

The Trip to Italy is a very enjoyable and hilarious comedy starring comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The success of The Trip to Italy comes from the two’s interactions in the country of Italy, as they stay in luxurious hotels, have lots of delicious food, visiting monuments and historic places of Italian films and British authors, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. The Trip to Italy is ultimately funny because Coogan and Brydon work together very well. Seeing the two go around the country of Italy was definitely a treat.

Based off their BBC TV series, The Trip to Italy is a sequel to their 2010 film The Trip. The story is simple. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play exaggerated fictional versions of them1selves, who after previously having toured Northern Britain (in the first Trip movie) return to do a new six day tour of Italy. In conversation, they reveal their personal and career problems. All the way through the film, their friendship shines through with humor and witty banter.

The Trip to Italy was a pleasant surprise, however I had pretty good expectations going into the film. I’m fan of Steve Coogan’s, having enjoyed his work on Alan Partridge, Coogan’s Run, Tropic Thunder, and Philomena among others. In fact, The Trip to Italy may be one of the funniest films I’ve seen all year. By using conversation and interactions with each other, the best way to create humor, Steve and Rob have made a film that’s immensely entertaining and great to watch.

There is an actual storyline in this film as Steve tries to reconcile with his fictional son, Joe. (In real life, Steve Coogan only has one daughter and he’s only been married once.) Meanwhile, Rob is auditioning for a part in a Michael Mann movie. In real life, Rob Brydon is not part of the cast list of Mann’s upcoming Blackhat. In fact, the only thing real about Steve and Rob in The Trip to Italy, aside from the trip itself, is their own professional careers as comedians with a gift for improvisation.

Rob Brydon’s impersonations, in particular, are quite amazing and amusing in this film. From Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Christian Bale, in an amusing The Dark Knight Rises impersonation segment, to Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery and more, the impersonations are extremely well done and add to the film’s sense of humor and fun. The film also features memorable quotes such as “The best surgeon in the world” and “I’m on the beach chasing Robert DeNiro when he’s furiously running away from me”. I especially loved the shot of the boat sailing, played to some beautiful music. It was so hilariously unfitting.

The Trip to Italy is an amusing, entertaining, and enjoyable film. By combining talks of their careers and film history, Steve and Rob have managed to create a film that is very much worth your time. A complete winner.