Blue Jasmine

BJ-posterI try to remember the words of Garth from Wayne’s World when I go to see a current Woody Allen film. I tell myself this isn’t about how I want his movies to be. It’s about how he perceives himself as a filmmaker and an auteur and how his art completely represents who he is in today’s world of cinema.

Okay, who am I kidding? It’s totally about me! Because I represent the paying audience and even if Woody makes his films for himself with no worries about how they are perceived, my opinion still counts! I’ll bet Woody doesn’t have to write a blog post every 51 days!  (I’m guess I’m a little behind.)

Blue Jasmine has been Woody Allen’s best reviewed movie in years. Praise has been universal for the script and the cast and the acting.  And yet I sat through this movie and thought, okay, been there, done that. What other critics called an homage to A Streetcar Named Desire seemed to me to be lukewarm Tennessee Williams copycatting. It was Blanche DuBois meets Bernie Madoff, only the disgraced financial consultant was played by Jack Donaghy as interpreted by Alec Baldwin, who now seems to play every part as if he were still on 30 Rock.

Coincidences abound in the script and shape the story in a convenient way that simply seem like he couldn’t bothered to work out the plot. The characterizations are all remnants of well-known stereotypes, and while the actors try their best, nothing on the screen seems original. The word that I kept writing in my notes was lazy.

I remind myself that Woody Allen is 78 years old, that he has been making films for over 40 years. He knows what he wants to say. I just think I’m tired of listening.

Barf Bag Rating: ZERO BAGS

The Bling Ring/The Way Way Back

bling_ringTeen age angst has been a popular film subject for years, and no wonder: the years of emotional upheaval, budding sexuality and the quest for popularity combine to make movies that remind those of us who are past this age to stay away from time machines. It also feeds directly into the touch of narcissism that all teenagers possess, as they are a hugely profitable segment of the movie-going audience and will willingly pay to watch themselves on-screen. Oddly, this is often in films where they are hacked to bits by strangers in hockey masks.

There is no blood spattering in The Bling Ring because I’m pretty sure the kids depicted in this film have no actual body fluids. They appear to be as soulless as the zombies that populate other teenage films, although they are far better accessorized. The film tells the true story of a group of LA kids who decide to break into Paris Hilton’s home. Actually, they decide to walk into the mansion because it appears as if she has no security system and doesn’t even bother to lock her doors. The fact that the amateurs are able to do this says as much about Paris Hilton as it does the would-be thieves: she obviously has way too much stuff and doesn’t even notice when things go missing. The kids realize this and decide to help themselves.

With the first robbery, you can almost understand this line of thought. Frankly, Paris Hilton is the most annoying famous-for-nothing person that we know too much about and the teens actually track her whereabouts by reading tabloids to find out when she’s gone. But the urge to possess designer outfits pushes them to try other celebrities, and the well-dressed gang hits the houses of Audrina Partridge and Orlando Bloom as well. Soon they are stealing wads of cash and designer drugs from a variety of unlocked mansions and cars.

Directed by Sophia Coppola, the movie depicts a level of shallowness that is as shocking as it is depressing. The teenage gang never once questions whether what they are doing is wrong or right; they appear to have no morals at all. The families they come from are clueless about what they are doing but even after they are caught, seem full of excuses for the behavior of their children. The criminal activities are depicted in almost a clinical way, with Coppola letting the viewer make their own judgement. It’s a scathing statement about modern-day materialism and the decline of the family, or at least I hope it is. I suppose it’s possible that Sophia Coppola was simply documenting what growing up in Hollywood was like.

It’s also pretty scathing on your stomach as the film uses a lot of real hand-held footage to document the robberies. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it through the film after the first fifteen minutes, but it calmed down a little after they stopped using shaky night cam shots. I would also like to know just what the reason was for the hideous font treatment used in the poster. That made me more nauseous than the film itself, and I am not the only one who noticed.

kinopoisk.ruMoving on to less Hollywood-type angst/more coming of age, The Way Way Back tells the story of one summer in the life of an awkward and depressed 14-year-old boy on vacation with his mother and her loutish boyfriend. The kid is lonely, the mother is anxious, the boyfriend is obnoxious; all fairly standard characters that are elevated by the actors. Toni Colette and Steve Carrell play the couple, with Liam James as the young man who would have been played by John Cusack twenty years ago. The boy ends up working at a water park that looks exactly like every run down park you’ve ever been to on vacation; you just know that someone has peed in the Lazy River.

Sam Rockwell is the manager of the park who hires the kid and steals the movie with his rapid banter and personality. The script is slight but charming, written by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who also wrote The Descendents. It was odd to see Rash act in the film with hair as he usually plays the chrome-domed Dean on Community. There is a repeated gag about whether or not you can pass someone on a water slide, and the movie makes you wish you could grab a pad and see for yourself if it’s possible. A nice summery diversion from robot carnage with nothing to unsettle you except whatever that was floating in the wave pool.

One BagOne BagBarf Bag Rating for The Bling Ring: TWO BAGS
Barf Bag Rating for The Way Way Back: ZERO BAGS

Much Ado About Nothing

much-ado-about-nothing_612x907“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Words that ring true from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, but he should have added this caveat: “…unless you’re in Hollywood.” Because then great power means you can do whatever the hell you want. How else can one explain Joss Whedon’s latest film? When you make the third highest grossing movie ever, no one will even bat an eye when you pitch, “I’m thinking I might want to try Shakespeare as my next project. Probably film it in black and white; not gonna bother with stars — I’ll just use my friends. Yeah, I’m gonna keep the iambic pentameter  — don’t want to mess with a classic, right?—  I think it will be too warm for velvet so I’ll just let them wear their own clothes. Oh, and I’m gonna film it in my backyard.” Continue reading

The Heat

heat_posterAs we all know, a thank you note must always be hand written, preferably on a lovely creme-colored stock in indigo ink from a heavy fountain pen that allows the words of gratitude to flow smoothly from its nib. This is why cursive must not be allowed to disappear from our public schools, because a heartfelt message inscribed with your own hand is really the only way to convey the depths of your thanks. “TY GRAM 4 the $$!” will simply not cut it.

So I must apologize for doing this in an electronic format. While it goes against every fiber of my being, I simply do not have time to send a stamped envelope to everyone in Hollywood, so I must resort to the internet, as we so often do. Please imagine this as lovingly crafted note, full of flourish and proper punctuation. As you would expect, my penmanship is excellent.

Dear Twentieth Century Fox,
Thank you so much for distributing the new buddy film, The Heat. In a summer where the term “sausage fest” would not be hyperbole, having a movie that stars two women was a like an icy, delicious treat for our parched throats. I saw it the first weekend it opened; so did just about everyone else I know, some who even happened to be men. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the guys in tights and exploding robots that are always there; it’s just that occasionally (maybe more than once every three years?), it’s fun to go see the cinematic equivalent of coming home and taking off your bra. It’s relaxing and liberating! Continue reading

Star Trek: Into Darkness

startrek2posterThere is an unspoken rule among movie critics that you do not spoil a movie’s ending. This speaks to the respect that grows between an audience and a trusted reviewer who realizes that when a person invests hard-earned cash in an evening of entertainment, they deserve the right to approach the film with a child’s innocence and sense of wonder. Of course, that rule only applies to critics who are actually paid. The rest of us are just hacks working out of our basements so we can say anything we damn well please. And frankly, if you spend any time on the internet at all, there is no way you have made it this far without knowing about this ending.

But just in case you are one of those darling naive movie patrons, let me switch to all caps and declare a SPOILER ALERT. This review is so spoiled that if you drank it out of a carton in front of an unplugged refrigerator, it would cause you to puke up every taco you have eaten in the past twenty-four hours (just keeping with the theme of the site!). Continue reading

The Great Gatsby

great-gatsby“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

As the final words of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby floated across the screen in the latest film interpretation, I was transported back to a classroom in 1971 where a group of bored teenagers were forced to read this classic aloud. As a pimply, mush-mouthed boy attempted to wrap his Appalachian accent around the final sentence of the book, he unfortunately misread the closing phrase as, “So we beat off…” The classroom erupted with hoots and hollers, and since then the poetry of this ending has always brought a little smirk to my face. Continue reading

Ironman 3

ironman posterI like my action heroes with a little angst. I have to believe that if you’re going to blow up buildings and take out innocent civilians while attempting to save the world, you’re going to earn a little PTSD along with all the kudos. It shows you have a heart, or in the case of Ironman’s Tony Stark, at least an electromagnetic cup with a bunch of shrapnel in it.

Ironman 3 came roaring into theatres last weekend, setting off a chain reaction of summer flicks that will continue well into cicada season. Last summer we had The Avengers, where Ironman joined up with Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and a few other superhero types in really tight outfits. The big climax culminated in an all out battle to save the world from aliens and other Loki-driven demons that happened over the skies of NYC. Although the day was saved, the experience was traumatic enough for Tony Stark that he starts twitching if anyone even mentions the words “New York.” Continue reading

Roger Ebert: 1942-2013

Shakeflicksthatmakemesick has been offline for a few weeks while I focus on some Real Life Stuff that can’t be ignored no matter how much I try. But I wanted to come back for a brief moment and pay tribute to Roger Ebert, one of the all time great Chicago writers.

I often disagreed with Roger’s movie reviews. All the way back to Sneak Previews, I was far more likely to nod my head at Gene Siskel’s assessment than Roger’s critique. But I kept on reading his stuff and watching his program and realized that even though my opinion frequently veered in a different direction than his, his writing was still very interesing. You had to admire his emotional investment in every movie he watched and his unabashed cheerleading for the practice of filmmaking in general. Continue reading

Flight/Life of Pi

flight-poster-domesticNow that the year of the snake is upon us, I feel that it is timely to turn to the zodiac to answer all our questions about the remaining nominated films before the Academy Awards are presented. (Also, I watched Anaconda this weekend – best snake movie ever!)

The four elements that organize the zodiac signs are Air, Fire, Earth and Water. We will combine the first two, Air and Fire, because that is essentially what the movie Flight is about – the plane starts out in the Air and ends up in a field on Fire (hey, I guess that covers Earth, too!) The crash sequence guarantees that this film will not be shown on your next United cross-country trip. This is what an emergency landing looks like in your nightmares. All but six people survive, and that is due to the skill and grace under pressure of the pilot, the fabulous Whip Whitaker. Continue reading

Django Unchained

djangoIt’s not like I didn’t know what to expect.

Just the name Tarantino is usually enough to let you know what you’re in for. His name has practically become an adjective. (“The tarantino effect was in full force as the spatters of red wine reached every corner of the kitchen.”) Since he burst onto the scene in 1992 with the extremely bloody Reservoir Dogs, his films have become synonymous with over-the-top violence. He stays pretty true to form in his latest, Django Unchained.

The movie follows the adventures of a bounty hunter named King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who teams up with a slave (Jamie Foxx). King buys Django and frees him, and together they hunt down a variety of criminals, all the while looking for Django’s wife, Broomhilde, who was sold to another plantation. Tarantino likes to mix up his styles, so the film pays homage to spaghetti westerns with a number of anachronistic, contemporary touches thrown in as well. I’m not sure if “homage” is the right word here, because to me if seemed like a really violent remake of Blazing Saddles. With the duo of Foxx/Waltz as a stand-in for Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder, the mixed race duo encounter overt racism and over-the-top bad guys. Even the comedy is slapstick, as a group of KKK members ride to lynch Django but have to abort the mission because they can’t see out of the eye holes of their hoods. I would have sworn that the voice coming out of one of the masked Klansman was Slim Pickens, who was in Blazing Saddles but died about 30 years ago. Broomhilde even speaks German, a plot point that figures into her rescue, although at no point is she as tired as Madeline Kahn. Continue reading