Thursday, August 8, 2013

This weekend at the movies

In brief...

-Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters. Basically, it’s a big-budget sci-fi argument that there should be universal health care and we should stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants, because if not, laser swords. My review can be found here. I said, “This power-up is a gawky exo-skeleton, one that presumably will keep Max from passing out due to radiation, but also granting him meta-human strength. It’s never explained how this works, where it came from, or how it’s essentially lying around a favela, waiting for the moment a Hispanic cast will glue it to the back of an honorable gringo. To its amusing credit, this device never looks comfortable on Damon, representing exactly what it is: a trendy super space blockbuster weapon glued onto a would-be award-nominated actor, one who actually just starred in an all-American David-and-Goliath story about fracking of all things.”

-Also seeing release is a sequel no one really asked for, “Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters.” I had never seen the first one, but because I have seen a fantasy YA adaptation before, I figured it out for the most part. In my review, I said of Brandon Jackson, who co-stars in the film, ” Despite receiving second billing, Jackson is absent for the entirety of the second act, victim of a kidnapping that’s almost as undignified as the CGI hoofs he sports as a satyr. Jackson gives a performance that suggests an undeniable disdain for the material, as if he knows he’s the film’s token minority, looking like a sideshow distraction while he props up another white kid fulfilling another white kid prophecy.” Click here to read more.


-I did not see “We’re The Millers,” “Planes,” or “I Give It A Year.” “Millers” was a product of simple not-give-a-shittery, “Planes” is a movie for kindergarteners, and I regret not making plans for “I Give It A Year.” Maybe Friday night.

-“In A World” is a surprisingly tart comedy written and directed by the beautiful Lake Bell. The title is in reference for a go-to phrase that used to be a part of trailer voiceovers, one that was seemingly retired with the death of famous voiceover artist Don LaFontaine. In this film, however, Bell plays a voiceover hopeful who wants to stem the tide of male domination in the voiceover field, lucking into the opportunity to redefine the voiceover business by becoming the new voice of a revitalized approach to the “in a world” tagline, here used for some charmingly asinine fantasy epic called “The Amazon Games.”  Bell has a lot to say about institutionalized sexism, conventional power roles, and gender representation, couching all of that into a film that’s very funny (Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro and Nick Offerman are among the highlights) but also surprisingly touching. Fred Melamed plays her unsupportive father, and he’s brilliant, immediately recognizable, and absolutely hideous. One of those jerk performances that’s so good you kind of hope to never see the actor again.

-“Lovelace” is CLASSIC Millennium Films: ridiculous period details, middling-to-poor storytelling, terrible wardrobe and fashion choices, big names showing up in weird places and a general sleaze aesthetic of “ugh.” If you can go with it (and I sure can!) then this is a film of small delights, about a very ugly story about a very sad girl. Amanda Seyfried’s Linda Lovelace, who was coerced and bullied to become the star of “Deep Throat” in the seventies, ends up becoming the poster girl for a sexual revolution, one that leaves her broke and abused at the same time. It’s the flipside of the “sexual liberation” of that era, and frankly it’s a relief they skip over some of the seedier aspects of Lovelace’s lifestyle. But this is a big, dopey, gaudy movie about under-educated people doing bad things to make a buck, so yes, there is a sort of guilty-pleasure in all of it. Poor Seyfried, saddled with a part that not only demands she be the victim, but also has her playing second fiddle to a cast of b-and-c listers, as well as their corresponding hair. Peter Sarsgaard comes off the best as Lovelace’s gross husband Chuck Traynor, while Chris Noth preps his Scorsese audition tape as a financier of “Deep Throat” and Adam Brody continues his string of unconvincing hambone performances as Harry Reems. About an hour into the movie, James Franco walks in, as if just off the set of another Millennium bit part he just wrapped, “The Iceman.” The audience has to be told that Franco is Hugh Hefner, and it’s essentially life imitating art, a bunch of amateurs encountering a real star in a scenario only he controls.

-I was less warm on “Prince Avalanche,” a fairly dull, mostly improvisational film about two yutzes fixing a damaged highway in the late eighties. David Gordon Green’s career urges have took him from arthouse dramas to fratty studio comedies and back, but this new effort kind of feels like the later album of a band trying to recapture their earlier charm. Moments with extras who seem to have simply walked onto the set provide a transcendent loveliness that was once a part of Green’s era of “George Washington” and “All The Real Girls.” But the time spent with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch is mostly just a boring wash. These two feel like they’re playing sketches, not characters: Hirsch the out-of-shape layabout interested in cheap sex, and Rudd the unironic task-master stubbornly attempting to romanticize their un-romantic wilderness setting. The dramatic stakes are so low as to be nonexistent, so Green overcompensates by drumming up an unconvincing rivalry between the two, one that results in Apatow-style macho posturing, and a chance for Rudd to embrace his worst instincts by playing the joke instead of the person. I like Rudd, and I like Hirsch, and I liked the idea of this movie. I just couldn’t escape the feeling that I spent eighty minutes waiting for it to start, only for the end credits to play instead.

-Finally, if you’re in New York City, it’s recommended you check out the documentary “Zipper,” opening at the IFC Center. In my review, I described developer Joe Sitt as thusly:”Allegedly a former Brooklyn resident himself (he claims he is called Joey Coney Island by locals, which sounds like vaguely treasonous behavior if true), he pauses one question to brag about the Rolodex of names interested in Coney property. His shit-eating grin only widens as he rifles through a list that includes names like Dave & Buster’s, Coldstone Creamery and Bubba Gump Shrimp as if it were the coolest thing ever. Later he defensively asks what the problem would be exactly if he turned Coney Island into a facsimile of Six Flags.” Read more here.