Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Lass is More" Examines "Hello, My Name is Doris" and "10 Cloverfield Lane"

On the surface it may appear like the intense thrilled "10 Cloverfield Lane" and the comedy "Hello, My Name is Doris" have little in common.  I believe nothing is further from the truth.  Here are two films which very much trade on the questions of what is reality and what is fantasy.  They are both concerned with how one becomes the other and whether this transition is good or bad.

It is, in fact rather amazing just how concerned both movies are with the exact same sort of questions even if they go about exploring them in different fashion or via a different story.  But, as always, rather than my writing about it here, why not just click play and have me speak my thoughts directly into your ears.  I promise, my words are more clear than the Once-ler's.

photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Paramount Pictures

Monday, June 20, 2016

"Game of Thrones" Offers up a Seriously Disappointing Battle

It has been a while since I've ranted here about the problems on a television show, but here goes a short little thing where I do just that – last night's "Game of Thrones" was insanely disappointing. Listen, the Mereen stuff was fine, but the Battle of the Bastards was really not very good.


Glad you asked, I'll tell you… but there are definite spoilers coming. You're not going to get a second warning about this is, they start in the next paragraph and just keep going.

Sansa tells Jon (and therefore us) before the battle ever starts that Ramsay is going to try to throw off Jon's game by doing something like killing Rickon. So, right up front during the battle, Ramsay throws off Jon's game by… killing Rickon. And, because apparently he's learned nothing from all his time at the Wall, Jon bites on this stupidity despite having been told the night before that this is exactly what was going to occur.

Beyond it not being a surprise that it's going to occur, it doesn't work terribly well for us in the audience because Rickon hasn't been a character in the show since… well, maybe he was in season one? Maybe not even then? For us it has no emotional impact which makes it more difficult for us to accept Jon's biting. We have the appropriate distance to recognize Jon's foolishness for what it is.

Then there's the battle itself. "Game of Thrones" already killed Jon Snow once, so they weren't going to do it again last night – that quiver is empty. No excitement could be garnered from the question of whether or not Jon would live through the battle, he had to live because he was just brought back to life. Killing him over and over wouldn't work dramatically.

Looking at the basic numbers of the battle, the Stark army is far smaller than Ramsay's band. That means that we all know going in that it is going to take something special for the Starks to win. But, things go exactly as one would expect. There are no surprises, things go badly for the Stark army and then get worse for them. They are being beaten just as we knew they would be.

Where is the drama there?

Right, there isn't any and the lack of drama means that the producers are going to try to impress us with something big that we don't know about. But, by the only possible solution to this dilemma being a surprise, there is no surprise.

I kept figuring it was going to be Gandalf who would rescue the Starks. Come on, what did he say about the morning of the fifth day? What is the bit in "Lord of the Rings" about help unlooked for? It was like "Game of Thrones" was just wholly borrowing from Tolkien last night.

Watching the battle the question is not how Jon is going to win, but rather who is going to show up to help him. It had to be someone we've seen this season but not in the past few episodes. So… Dorne or the Vale. No surprise then there either.

There was only one way this fight was ever going to end and there was not a single surprise along the way… how is that exciting? How is that gratifying?

I can't even root for Sansa when she ends Ramsay's life at the end of the episode. The Starks ought to be idealistic, they ought to be doing the right thing and fighting the good fight and concerned with loftier things. Sansa gives in to her baser instincts at the end of the episode and we are meant to be excited that she does. I am not. I can't be.

I'm sorry, I've loved this season as a whole, but not this episode.

photo credit: HBO

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Lass is More" on Animation, "Zootopia," and "Anomalisa."

I know that I've talked before about animation and how the best animation is work that is for both kids and adults, that gets everyone in the audience excited.  Well, I'm back at it today, but this time with two very different films -- "Zootopia" and "Anomalisa."

"Zootopia" is clever in a way that I don't think many animated movies are.  The more I watch it, the less I love the story, but I'm ever more entranced by the world and the way it's constructed.  The amount of time that had to go into working out just how such a place could possibly function is something I food outstanding.  And, "Anomalisa," well... there's an example of animation that is out definitely not for children -- it is an R-rated bit of brilliance that I find stupendously interesting.

But, rather than my writing about all of it, why don't you take a listen to the podcast and hear me wax pseudo-eloquent.

photo credit: Paramount/Walt Disney Studios Animation

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

"Lass is More" on "Careful What you Wish for," "13 Hours," & "Triple 9"

Greetings and salutations!

The main feature on today's "Lass is More" is an interview with Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, the director of Nick Jonas' new movie, "Careful What you Wish for."  As the movie is a neo-noir affair with a teenage bent it makes some sense for us to also mention two new Blu-ray arrivals, "Triple 9" and "13 Hours."  The former is an update to the cop drama and the latter an update to the war film.

"Triple 9," frankly, works really well.  It blurs the line between cops and crooks, shows us some reasons why people do what they do and offers some great action sequences.  "13 Hours" can definitely boast impressive action sequences but it's take on Benghazi feels too obvious, too black and white.  It is difficult to believe that the government people on-site (as opposed to the private contractors) could possibly have been so blind to their situation.  I do like Bay's direction of the action, but the depiction of the story not so much.

Now, before we go the podcast link and the interview, here's one more follow-up answer from Rosenbaum.  In our discussion she mentions her USC graduate school degree--I too have a degree from their film school--and I wanted to ask her one more question about it which she was kind enough to answer via email.  This last question to her was "How do you feel as though that experience [USC film school] shaped your view of movies and television and influenced your work?"

Her answer: "I loved going to USC.  For me, I used it as an incubator to start to find my voice.  I have a bit of an East Coast 'puritan work ethic' so I don’t think I would have had the courage to take three years on my own to make little projects.  I would have felt like I wasn’t 'working.'  Therefore, getting a 'Graduate Degree' validated me allotting three years of my life to getting my hands on a lot of equipment and workshopping short stories in a safe forum.  I had some terrific teachers whose lectures I still draw from to this day (and who I still collaborate with).  I also teach there and find it to be rewarding to help foster new voices (and selfishly, to stay current and be more daring - because I’m interacting with young, very enthusiastic new talent.)"

"Careful What you Wish for" opens in theaters and on demand this Friday, June 10th.

photo credit: Starz Digital

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Lass is More" Takes on Classic Hollywood

There are things in this world which I just love and Classic Hollywood is amongst them.  Tell me a classic Hollywood story or a story of Classic Hollywood and I'm in.  I'm hooked.

So, for today's podcast, we look at two movies "Hail, Caesar!" which arrives on Blu-ray on June 7th and "The Finest Hours" which is currently available on Blu-ray.  The former is a tale about classic Hollywood and the latter is something of a classic Hollywood story.

Neither movie is perfect--and "Hail, Caesar!" is undoubtedly superior--but both have things to recommend them.  Rather than my ruining it all for you write here and now, why don't you just click that little play button below and listen for yourself!

photo credit: Universal Pictures/Disney

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Movie Review: "The Nice Guys" (2016)

Shane Black has done fantastic things with buddy movies. "Lethal Weapon," "The Last Boy Scout," "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," and "Iron Man 3" all show off his writing talent and the last two offer up his directorial skills as well. So, combining his skill with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe feels like it all add up to something pretty special and "The Nice Guys" is good, but by only being good it ends up feeling a little disappointing. Watching the movie and lightly chuckling along with it one has the unmistakable sense that there ought to instead be huge guffaws instead.

The tale in "The Nice Guys" revolves around perpetually drunk and morally questionable private eye, Holland March (Gosling), being forced to work with good human being with the questionable day job of beating folks up, Jackson Healy (Crowe). They don't really know what the case their working on is, but it has something to do with finding a missing woman, Amelia (Margaret Qualley); a dead adult film star, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio). Then the government, in the form of a Justice Department honcho played by Kim Basinger singer gets involved and it gets even more murky (or is supposed to anyway).

Delving any further into the plot would not only ruin some of the jokes but also lessen some of the twists and turns. Beyond that, it would also cause the whole thing to unravel. "The Nice Guys" is so much less about the case—which is built on coincidence, ridiculousness, blind luck, and lazy plotting—than it is about watching March and Healy fumble their way through life alongside March's daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice).

It isn't just that the situations are improbable, it's that they're so far past probable that the movie has to make a joke about how March keeps escaping without insane injuries. And, it certainly feels like that was the order in which these things were devised – that Black and Anthony Bargarozzi got to a certain point in their script, realized that March had gotten away with a lot more than a human being could, and made a joke to explain it away rather than figuring out more plausible scenarios for the character.

The amazing thing about "The Nice Guys" is that it works as well as it does. The kudos for making that happen lie squarely with Crowe, Gosling, and Rice. All three do great work even if the parent in my questions some of the language Rice uses and the scenarios in which Holly finds herself.

What I keep coming back to, however, is that as good as the characters are, just as with the plot, the dialogue leaves something to be desired. "The Nice Guys" is a film that is carried by charisma, charm, and every so often landing a decent joke.

The movie also lacks deftness when it comes to its action and shootouts. Hired killer, John Boy (Matt Bomer), is out to get March and Healy and has unlimited bullets which he fires off with reckless abandon. The notion that he wouldn't care who he kills is fine, but the idea that he can't get March and Healy with that many bullets is farcical. Unfortunately, "The Nice Guys" doesn't play it as farce. John Boy is supposed to be great at his job, but he's incompetent when it comes to accomplishing his goal of getting the leads and the film can't even muster the strength to offer jokes about it. There are other thugs (played by Beau Knapp and Keith David) who are comical and who do a great job at being incompetent for laughs. "The Nice Guys" is able to recognize the status of these smaller characters but, perhaps because it needs a real threat for March and Healy, can't see John Boy as humorous in anything but his "Waltons" derived name. It lessens his impact and hurts the film.

Due to the loose plot, not-quite-snappy-enough dialogue, and problematic bad guys the not particularly long runtime, just under two hours, of "The Nice Guys" feels far longer. There is a lot of slack that could have been taken in, making it a far more taught, far more enjoyable, film.

And yet, for all that, it's pretty good. It's relatively fun. It's relatively light-hearted. It's relatively comedic. It's relatively clever. It's relatively an enjoyable night at the movie. It just should have been better.

Maybe we'll get a sequel and the next one will be.

photo credit: Warner Bros.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"Lass is More" Gambles with "The Best of It"

Today on the podcast we have Scott Eberly, the director of a new documentary, currently available on demand, called "The Best of It."  During the interview, Eberly takes us through not just why these particular men gamble for living, but why they stay with it, whether they're happy, and what attracted him to the story.

Whatever he may have been expecting to find when he set out, what Eberly winds up with is an interesting, eclectic, bunch of characters who may be doing what they'v done for years but aren't always happy about it.

Take a listen and, as always, feel free to send us your questions or comments.

photo credit:  Best of it Films, LLC

Monday, May 09, 2016

Movie Review: "X-Men: Apocalypse"

There are two minor spoilers below. Truthfully, I wouldn't even classify them as spoilers, but some people out there are quite sensitive and forewarned is forearmed.

At their best, the X-Men movies marry spectacle with deep philosophical discussions about how we treat those who are different from us. Many of the films feature Charles Xavier (either Patrick Stewart's version or James McAvoy's) pushing for a world in which humans and mutants can live side-by-side. His frenemy, Magneto (Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender), tends to take the position that humans and mutants cannot co-exist, that mutant-kind must win out (often by any means necessary).

While we in the real world don't face such questions about mutants and humans, we regularly do face questions about whom this world is for and how to treat those we come across. The questions asked by the films then are highly applicable to our lives and the way we see things. This has helped elevate the best films in the franchise above other empty actioners.

More than in any previous X-Men film (excluding standalones), that discussion—that crucial discussion—is missing from "X-Men: Apocalypse." Fassbender's Magneto is a shell of himself for most of the movie, at first hiding and then just acting on impulse, without thinking. He has no great conversations with Xavier. He doesn't even have a plan about what he's doing. He is, instead, turned into a minion of the powerful mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who would like to be a god on Earth and kill nearly everyone be they mutant or human.

The big questions with "Apocalypse" don't exist as conversations between characters but as larger queries about the film. Apocalypse's plan to rule the world would seemingly have him rule over a desolate, barren, landscape; a place wholly devoid of everything except for where cities one stood and the bodies have come to rest. He would be the god of a dead planet.

Bryan Singer is back again as director following his return to the chair in the last franchise entry, "X-Men: Days of Future Past." That film, the second in the "First Class" trilogy and fifth overall, brought the franchise to new heights. It combined the original cast with the new cast, rewrote the history of the franchise entirely, and overall was an enjoyable tale.

(minor spoiler one in this paragraph) "Apocalypse," more than anything else, feels like an afterthought, or a coda. It is an "X-Men" movie so lacking new ideas to offer that it actually blows-up Xavier's school… again. This occurring once more within the franchise would simply be silly if "Deadpool" hadn't made fun of the fact that the school seems to blow-up regularly earlier this year. In light of the joke made by the Merc with the Mouth, it feels exceptionally tired.

It also feels irrelevant. As with so much in the film, there is no requirement that any of it play out as it does, particularly in its echoes of earlier films. Things just happen as Apocalypse puts together his team and the good guys play catch-up.

(minor spoiler, and only a spoiler if you haven't watched the last trailer, in this paragraph) One of the biggest disappointments in the film is the appearance of the Adamantium-clawed one. Hugh Jackman's brief inclusion as Wolverine in the movie feels like a knowing attempt to fill in some of his backstory now that it's been altered due to "Days of Future Past." It is more than entirely irrelevant in "Apocalypse," it is a complete distraction, a moment of misplaced fan service.

Absent of thought-provoking discussion about our place in the world and how we choose to share this planet with others, "X-Men: Apocalypse" offers up high-intensity CGI-enhanced action sequences. From the opening moments in ancient Egypt as the camera swoops around in impossible fashion through to the incredibly destructive finale, "Apocalypse" revels in the destruction it causes. We go from country to country, continent to continent, watching famous landmarks get destroyed. Much of the destruction in the finale does not stem from an on-site battle, but rather action elsewhere in the world. In other words, it in no way enhances the plot – it is destruction for the sake of destruction.

Here again Singer and company seem to be the joke rather than being in on the joke. In a recent trailer for "Independence Day: Resurgence," Jeff Goldblum's character, David Levinson, notes that aliens love destroying landmarks as we see landmarks get destroyed. Levinson's joke shows that the movie is aware that it is doing something we've seen done so many times before and consequently gets away with it. "Apocalypse" shows no such understanding – things blow up because they can make things blow up.

All is not dark, however. One of the echoes of a past movie from the franchise works beautifully. Evan Peters' Quicksilver, just as in "Days of Future Past" gets to run around here in "Apocalypse" as time around him is slowed. Here, his sequence plays out to The Eurythmics' classic "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." It is unquestionably the highlight of the film… or would be if not for the specific reasons why and where Quicksilver is doing his thing.

Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, "X-Men: Apocalypse" is a relatively long film, but thinking back on it, it is difficult to figure out exactly where the time goes. As noted, it isn't taken up by plot and it isn't taken up by moral quandaries.

A fair amount of time is certainly devoted to introducing mutants, particularly ones we've seen before in other movies. "Days of Future Past" may have changed the world, but there are only so many moments that "here's a younger/new version of…" can play out. New characters, like Psylocke, are given short shrift in favor of showing us this Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), this Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), this Angel (Ben Hardy), this Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and this Storm (Alexandra Shipp). The actors and actresses acquit themselves to greater and lesser degrees but with each one that is brought in, the returns diminish. They can't all be so terribly different from the earlier versions and the movie doesn't get into motivations as well as it might. Again, the movie feels like it's fill in little blank spaces in our X-Men timeline as opposed to telling a story it wants to tell.

There is one time the film makes a meta reference that does work, and that is when they call the third entry in any film series the weakest. "Apocalypse" may be better than "The Last Stand," but it still finds itself near the bottom of the "X-Men" franchise.

photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Movie Review: "3rd Street Blackout"

Sometimes we have a visceral response when we sit down to watch a movie. Within the first five minutes, we get a sense that we are going to either love or loathe the film. It can be difficult to control and ignore that feeling so that we can see what happens next and judge the movie by what it is and not our first impression. Sometimes, we are rewarded for not going with our gut and other times everything that follows those first five minutes only reinforces that first feeling.

Watching "3rd Street Blackout," which is produced by, co-written by, co-directed by, and stars Negin Farsad and Jeremy Redleaf, the first impression offered of the main characters, Mina Shamkhali (Farsad) and Rudy Higgins (Redleaf) is wholly negative. Text messages appear on the screen in ludicrous colors as the two carry on a conversation despite being 10 feet from one another. We are not meant to know that they are so close, but it is a pleasant surprise because it means these texts, which read as horrible jokey loving drivel, will stop and with luck the characters' speech will be less grating.

It is not. Will they use her Netflix account or his? Why would they decide to use the queue from one and the account from the other? Who cares how many Roku boxes they have? This is what is discussed the first time they speak and seems meant as some sort of cute and clever way to talk about all the ways technology has changed how we merge our lives with someone. Instead, it makes Mina and Rudy feel exceptionally shallow. This sense is borne out as one watches the film unfold.

Every conversation with one or both of the characters seems to feature some sort of voice modulation or whine or—and I'll grant you that this is the opposite but it's no less bad—a completely and totally flat line reading, as though it is the first time this dialogue has ever been seen. Those problems though, as one might surmise, aren't the only issues with "3rd Street Blackout."

Their manner of speaking alone may make Mina and Rudy an unlikable couple, but their actions make them insufferable. Denizens of 3rd Street in Manhattan, Mina and Rudy are on opposite career trajectories – Mina is doing neurological research and a TED fellow (Farsad is a TED fellow in real life), whereas Rudy is a freelance coder. Rudy seems to not care about pursuing greater success, as evidenced by his apathetic attitude when he and two friends who, magically, are even more obnoxious than the main characters, win a hackathon, whereas Mina is career driven to the point where she's no longer around all that much.

And there's the nub of the film – these two characters one wouldn't want to watch separately are having trouble being together. Then, when Hurricane Irene (or perhaps Superstorm Sandy) hits and the city has a blackout, the two have a conversation and things fall apart. Now, they would have fallen apart anyway because it's completely random that Mina comes home just prior to the storm, but the lack of electricity is meant to throw their relationship into stark relief. Perhaps this is because they can't Netflix and chill.

"3rd Street Blackout" features a series of cameos including folks like Janeane Garofalo and John Hodgman but precisely why is indiscernible. They add little to enjoy in a highly unlikable mix. Ed Weeks stays around longer but is ill-used as a venture capitalist with whom may Mina may have had a one-night stand (yes, he then is the immediate cause of the breakup, but not part of the deeper issues).

Someone, somewhere, will make the argument that this is an accurate representation of life and love for perhaps millennials/perhaps slightly older people in the 21st Century. As a part of that slightly older than millennial group, I hope not. The people portrayed in this film are folks who go down to the East River to try and get cell service from Brooklyn and then actually mock the individuals who are doing the exact same thing. They are hipsters who make fun of other hipsters for being hipsters. Perhaps they would suggest that they aren't a part of that culture and such a discussion will no doubt have something to do with the length of Rudy's beard, his lack of a handlebar mustache, and their not making pickles. They are quibbles that miss the larger point.

The entirety of "3rd Street Blackout," in fact, misses the larger point. Unlikable people doing unlikable things and being repeatedly dreadful to those around them doesn't make for a comedy and it doesn't make for a romance. It just makes something unlikable.

photo credit: Paladin

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

"Lass is More" Figures out "Where to Invade Next"

Not everything in this world is as straightforward and simple as we would have it be. There are contradictions with which we have to deal. One that I've been struggling with -- Michael Moore.

I think that so much of what Moore has to say is correct. I think that much of what he argues for are things that we should consider. I think that he often stands on the correct side of the argument.

I also think that with his latest move, "Where to Invade Next," he doesn't try all that hard. I think here he's preaching to the choir and has, at best, made half a movie. Again, it's not that his ideas are necessarily wrong, it's just that he's not backing them up with any sort of action and it makes me contemplate whether his films have prompted any sort of larger successful movement at all.  That is, Michael Moore has been pushing for a certain kind of movement in this country, via his films, for nearly 3 decades are we better off now or not?

I don't know that we can answer "yes" to that.

photo credit: Anchor Bay Home Entertainment