The Silver Bullet ~ Hereditary

Synopsis: When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.

Release Date: June 8, 2018

Thoughts: I’ve been following the reports out of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and Hereditary is a title I’ve seen pop up on more than few must see lists.  Now, it’s well-known that not every title that makes it big at Sundance goes on to perform like gangbusters at the global box office (hello, The Birth of a Nation) but I’ve a happily nagging suspicion this horror film from first time director Ari Aster has the goods to go all the way.  I’d see Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) in almost anything but am especially excited to see her take on this role; while the actress has been a value-add to anything she lends herself out to, it’s about time she gets another solid hit under her belt.  There’s enough creepy goings-on in this trailer to entice but not spoil…and that always intrigues me to see more.  It’s not coming out until June but distributor A24 has proven it has excellent timing so I’m confident Hereditary has fallen into worthy hands.

Movie Review ~ The Disaster Artist

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

Stars: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Kate Upton, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Hannibal Buress, Andrew Santino, Alison Brie, Sharon Stone

Director: James Franco

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  There’s a classic movie theater in my town that used to show the best Midnight Movies.  Before they went digital, they often featured classic movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s in all their celluloid glory.  It was at this theater I saw a print of Adventures in Babysitting, Friday the 13th, The Breakfast Club, and introduced several horrified friends to Showgirls.  Then the financial realities of shipping film stock and the public need for crystal clear projections led the theater to remodel and slowly eliminate these wonderfully nostalgic screenings.  While The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Serenity remained bewildering stalwarts on the roster, another movie started to be featured that I’d never heard of and didn’t have any interest in seeing.  This movie was The Room.

Released in 2003 and now regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, I didn’t experience The Room until about a month ago at a screening organized in anticipation of the release of The Disaster Artist.  If you’ve never seen the movie, I highly encourage you to take it in at a theater with an audience of like-minded adults.  The crowd I saw it with were experienced in the jaw-dropping insanity of writer/director Tommy Wiseau’s crazy drama and their reactions pushed the overall viewing of the movie into one of my favorite nights in a theater of 2017.  Yes, the movie is terrible but it’s so joyful in its awfulness that its impossible not to be hypnotized by it.  I can’t imagine watching it at home with friends or, worse, alone.  It’s meant to be seen in the theater.

Working with a script from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, adapted from a book written by The Room’s original co-star Greg Sestero (played here by Dave Franco, Now You See Me), director James Franco has turned in a loony albeit quite entertaining film that feels like his most sophisticated exercise to date.  Franco (Sausage Party) not only excels behind the scenes, but it’s been years since he’s been as good in front of the camera as he is playing Wiseu, nailing the mysterious man’s personal tics and hard to place accent.

Charting the development of the film from Sestero’s point of view through its troubled creation to opening night, James Franco has surrounded himself with some of the best and brightest up and coming stars of today as well as featuring cameos from a treasure trove of Hollywood royalty.  One minute Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman) is turning up in a brief role as a hysterically memorable character from The Room and then Sharon Stone (Lovelace) appears as Sestero’s man-eating agent.  Keep your eyes out for Melanie Griffith and Bryan Cranston, too!  It’s so chock full of famous faces I’ll likely need to see it a second time to catch everyone that floats by onscreen.

This is a film aimed squarely at fans of The Room so better do your homework before trekking to the theater to see it.  Scenes, performances, and situations are painstakingly recreated as evidenced in the credits which put the original film and this tribute side by side to show how close Franco got to shot for shot perfection.  Going in with no working knowledge of the film that inspired it will likely cause most of the jokes to go whizzing past, robbing you of the plethora of fun to be had.  Some theaters are doing a double-feature and I’d suggest seeking those out and making a crazy night of it!

I don’t think anyone that heard Franco was making The Disaster Artist ever could have predicted it would come off so well, much less be in the running for several major Oscar nominations in mid-January.  When you think about it, though, making a film about the making of the world’s worst movie is something that seems right up Franco’s alley.  The eccentric actor seems like he’d be a kindred spirit of Wiseau and Franco never seems to shy away from challenging material…the more meta the betta, er, better.

Movie Review ~ Lady Bird

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Odeya Rush, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott

Director: Greta Gerwig

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: There was a time in the not so distant past when Greta Gerwig and I weren’t on speaking terms.  I know when the rift started: Frances Ha.  While Gerwig’s collaboration with writer/director Noah Baumbach became an indie twee delight, it didn’t bowl me over in the slightest.  Finding Gerwig’s titular character vapid, vain, and selfish, I just couldn’t get into the film and struggled to even finish it.  Gerwig’s popped up here and there in the following years, to better results, in Mistress America, Jackie, and 20th Century Women but it’s Lady Bird where our fences can be considered mended.

A thinly veiled but admittedly autobiographical look at Gerwig’s years as a teen in Sacramento in the late ‘90s, Lady Bird is going to be compared to Juno and with just cause.  Both are female led films that find a truth to their portrayal of adolescence and an authenticity in how teens and adults struggle to find common ground while just trying to make it through the day.  The difference between the two is that looking back at Juno it seems like it arrived from another wacky dimension while Lady Bird is already a period piece so there’s less chance of it becoming rapidly dated.

About to enter her senior year of high school, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, How I Live Now) demands that her family and friends call her Lady Bird and wants to attend college as far away from her Northern California town as possible.  She dreams of a life surrounded by arts and artists, while her mother (Laurie Metcalf, Uncle Buck) wants her daughter to come down from the clouds and understand that community college may be the best she can do.  With a father (Tracy Letts, The Post) that just lost his job and a brother living at home with his goth girlfriend, there isn’t much space for Lady Bird to breathe.

A small chance at happiness shows up in the drama department’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along.  Cast in the ensemble, she falls for the leading man (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) who is both her first love and first heartbreak.  Feeling like she has to climb higher socially than she can sticking by her best friend (Beanie Feldstein, who was wonderful in Broadway’s Hello Dolly!) she ingratiates herself with the popular girl (Odeya Rush, Goosebumps) and takes up with an alt-emo boy (Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name).  As the school year draws to a close and the great unknown future awaits, Lady Bird will learn tough lessons about finding one’s place and making a unique path toward happiness.

As she did in Brooklyn, Ronan is able to find a mainline to your heart without making it seem like a huge effort.  That’s surprising because her Brooklyn character was warm and selfless, and Lady Bird is anything but that.  Constantly sucking the air from any room she’s in and preventing others from finding their own orbit, Lady Bird is a force of nature and while it can be easy to get frustrated with her it’s just as easy to feel her pain as dreams she makes for herself vanish just as fast as they take shape.  If you’ve ever heard Gerwig talk it’s instantly clear that her voice comes through loud and clear not only in Ronan’s performance (Ronan channels Gerwig in eerie ways) but in the thoughts and ideas expressed by other characters.

Ronan isn’t the only star of the show here, though.  She gets the movie stolen away from here more than a few times by Metcalf as her steely mother.  Though the movie opens with mother and daughter waking up staring into each other’s eyes, both women soon wind up in an argument that bursts whatever peaceful bubble they had formed.  Scene after we scene we see Metcalf deliberately divert attention away from her daughter if she feels she’s getting too big for her britches or cast a spotlight on her when she makes the wrong move.  It sounds bad, but she’s doing what every parent tries to do but doesn’t always succeed in…help their child see that life is tough with the least amount of outside pain as possible.  It’s easy to see part of oneself in these moments when a child will push their parent’s buttons or the parent cuts their teen down just to prove their point.  I know I winced a few times when I recognized actions I’ve had in my own life.

If you’re already a fan of Gerwig’s, you’re going to get a lot of satisfaction out of her directorial debut which will likely earn her a place on the shortlist for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.  Expect Ronan and Metcalf to earn nominations as well for their deeply felt and carefully layered performances. If you’re just coming around to Gerwig like I am you’ll find it easier than ever to use Lady Bird to fly back into the fold.

Movie Review ~ The Florida Project


The Facts
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Synopsis: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.

Stars: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair, Karren Karagulian, Jim R. Coleman

Director: Sean Baker

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: In 2015 director Sean Baker made quite a splash on the indie circuit with Tangerine, a film about a trans woman working the streets to survive in California on Christmas Eve.  The film was notable not only in the urgency of its performances but for it being filmed entirely on an iPhone.  I’ve regrettably not seen Tangerine yet but I did catch Baker’s follow-up which switches coasts to Florida for a rough, raw look at children and adults that reside in a Disney-adjacent motel.  It’s title, The Florida Project, has a triple meaning but its message is crystal clear.

Taking place over the summer months when children roam free around the The Magic Castle Motel, The Florida Project plays like a series of vignettes that don’t have the clearest through line.  There are several stories fighting for the spotlight here and while some characters overlap or disappear completely, our main focus is on six year old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), her mom Halley (Bria Vinaite), and Bobby (Willem Dafoe, The Fault in Our Stars) the manager of the motel.  Moonee runs around with several other children while Halley only makes the most basic attempt to keep their heads above water.  Halley is feisty and averse to authority and it looks like Moonee is heading down that same path.  Bobby has to watch out not only for the up-keep of the motel but for it’s denizens that run afoul of each other and the law at regular intervals (Bobby’s argument with a washed-up stripper intent on tanning topless is a riot).

As the months go by we never learn too much about Moonee and Halley’s backstory because the film wants to stay in the moment like its main characters.  Bobby has some sort of paternal fondness for both girls, perhaps to make up for some suggested failings with his own child (Caleb Landry Jones, Contraband) that are only hinted at.  When Halley’s income dries up she embarks in increasingly dangerous behavior that leads the film to its emotional, impactful conclusion.

I’m going to be honest, The Florida Project isn’t for everyone and right up until the end I wasn’t even sure it was for me either.  The acting (I use that term very lightly) is amateur at best, with Baker plucking most of the cast out of obscurity (leading lady Vinaite was recruited from Instagram) and the pacing grows repetitive at nearly two hours in length.  Yet there is so much life on display here, so much devil-may-care attitude from those on screen and that helps to keep these characters alive long after the credits roll.

Dafoe’s performance is pretty remarkable too, largely because as the only truly experienced actor in the main mix he never makes it feel like he’s working with first-timers.  Often in these situations you can easily pick out the newbies but Dafoe keeps those dividers down, instilling even more realism to an already authentic-feeling movie-going experience.  Everyone else on screen is going on pure instinct and Dafoe meets them where they are to blend right in.

While overall I would suggest that you get The Florida Project on your list, I caution again that it’s not an easy film to take.  The ending especially is hard to sit through yet the final minutes are a surprisingly effective gut-punch I just wasn’t expecting in the slightest.  Baker already had good credit as an independent filmmaker and he’s captured lightening in a bottle again with The Florida Project.

 

 

Movie Review ~ A Ghost Story

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.

Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, McColm Sephas Jr., Kenneisha Thompson, Grover Coulson, Liz Cardenas Franke, Barlow Jacobs

Director: David Lowery

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  I guess the synopsis should have tipped me off that A Ghost Story was going to be a tough one.  Billed as a “singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence” sure sets a high bar for movie filmed with no fanfare in a tiny Texas town.  I’m sure art-house audiences will gobble this one up as their latest existential exercise for bragging rights to their friends that chose to see Spider-Man: Homecoming instead.  Still, with its maudlin musings and one endless shot of pie consumption A Ghost Story might have something to say but it takes literally forever to do it.

The first half of A Ghost Story centers on C (Casey Affleck, The Finest Hours) and M (Rooney Mara, Side Effects), a young couple that doesn’t have much or say much.  Still, when C dies in a car accident just outside their house, Affleck and Mara have given us more than a general idea of the depth of their connection.  M arrives at the hospital to identify the remains and after the sheet is lifted stares in shock at the body of her husband. Shortly after she pulls the sheet over C’s face and leaves the body rises and hops off the gurney, with the sheet cleverly falling into place thus creating the ghostly figure seen in the poster and trailers.

Strangely tied to the house once called home, the ghost remains through the years long after M has moved on with her life.  A host of different people live in the house over time. A single mother.  A flock of hipsters.  When the house is destroyed there’s a brief passage of interest where the ghost travels forward and then back in time, folding back on itself to see previous scenes from a different perspective.

It would be easy to say I was in a funk the day I screened this or even easier to just claim general stupidity but it just wouldn’t be true.  This is a hard movie to sit through, much less love or even like.  There’s literally a scene where the ghost watches paint dry, not to mention the never-ending take of Mara eating the majority of a pie someone brought over to comfort her.  The moment you feel like the scene can’t possibly continue, it goes on for another six minutes.  The significance of Mara having the house to herself and gorging herself on food until she’s sick isn’t lost on me…but why keep audiences at bay long after the message has been received?

Director David Lowery used the money he made from the remake of Pete’s Dragon to fund this long gestating project and I wish he would have just bought his mom a house like other directors who hit the big time have done.  I loved what Lowery did with Pete’s Dragon and the charming characters that sprang forward fully formed but A Ghost Story feels like a deliberate step back, suggesting a director desperately trying to remind us of his indie roots.

Movie Review ~ Swiss Army Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A hopeless man stranded in the wilderness befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Bound to be remembered as “that movie where Daniel Radcliffe played a farting corpse” than for all its inherent creativity, I’ve actually been suggesting Swiss Army Man to people with that same flatulent logline.  This is the type of movie that doesn’t have much of an impact when released in theaters but is bound to find its audience through streaming and home rentals.  Starring Paul Dano (Prisoners) and Radcliffe (What If), the flight of fancy with a morbid streak is a never predictable tiny gem that shines nicely once you get past some hard edges.

Dano stars as a man who opens the film literally at the end of his rope.  An island castaway with no hope for survival, he’s about to take proactive action on his fate before nature does when he sees the body of a young man (Radcliffe) wash ashore.  Using the gaseous corpse as a jet-ski (stay with me here), Dano hitches a ride on the body thus beginning his quest to find a way home.  This leads to an adventure through the wild and showcases the relationship between the living and the dead, finally arriving at a poignant conclusion that feels well-earned.  Co-starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a fantasy girl from Dano’s past, Swiss Army Man is an elaborately designed film that shows how far directors Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (aka The Daniels) can go with a small budget.  Worth letting ‘er rip and taking a chance on.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Monster

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Synopsis: A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.

Release Date: November 11, 2016

Thoughts: After making the nifty home invasion thriller The Strangers in 2008, writer/director Bryan Bertino has kept a fairly low profile.  Though Bertino’s Mockingbird failed to take flight in 2014, the filmmaker hopes to have another sleeper hit in 2016 with The Monster from rising studio A24.  These compact, one-setting creature features are always intriguing to me and as The Shallows showed earlier this year, you don’t need a huge budget or multiple locations to give audiences one good scare after another.  Starring Zoe Kazan (What If), Scott Speedman (The Vow), and what looks to be a nasty beast, I’m getting some nice vibes from this one.  I’m also cancelling any road trips on deserted roads…

The Silver Bullet ~ 20th Century Women

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Synopsis: The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

Release Date: December 25, 2016

Thoughts: If Annette Bening (Girl Most Likely) were to write an autobiography at this point in her career (which is far from it’s expiration date, btw) she might think about titling it “Always an Oscar Bridesmaid” because she’s been runner-up four times now.  Looking over who she’s lost to (Whoopi Goldberg, Hilary Swank {twice!}, Natalie Portman), I feel the right person always won…but it’s gotta be Bening’s time sometime…right?  Her latest bid arrives (with already good buzz for her nomination chances) with 20th Century Women, a 70s set drama about a trio of women and how they affect a young boy growing up in California.  Director Mike Mills guided Christopher Plummer to an Oscar win for Beginners — might he work the same magic for Bening?  Hope so.

Movie Review ~ Green Room

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After witnessing a murder, a punk rock band is forced into a vicious fight for survival against a group of maniacal skinheads.

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber, Eric Edelstein, Macon Blair, Kai Lennox

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: This is how I know I’m getting old. When I watch America’s Funniest Home Videos, I cringe when people fall down instead of rolling on the ground laughing like I used to. At amusement parks, I think about hurting my back when considering a towering rollercoaster. And overly gory films cause me to yelp and cover my eyes as I squirm in my seat instead of satisfying the demented cinematic bloodlust that drove me directly to the horror section of any video store I ever entered as a youth.

So you have to understand why Green Room was such an uncomfortable, yet thrillingly visceral, experience for me. Following a punk rock band of stoned out millennials into a backwoods neo-Nazi bar where they find themselves targeted for extermination, Green Room is one of those films you must steel yourself up for. The violence is shocking and sickening, not just because it comes out of nowhere but because it feels like some taboo boundaries of taste are being broken. Stomachs are slit open, throats are mangled, limbs nearly severed…and that’s just the tip of the bloody iceberg director Jeremy Saulnier has in store for audiences that dare to enter.

It’s safe to say that any film that boasts Patrick Stewart (The Wolverine) as its headline star has some level of sophistication and for all the entrails spilled and bones broken it’s a handsomely made picture, well-designed to feel contained yet not claustrophobic. Dimly lit interiors go nicely with the stark solemnity of the northwest forest that surrounds the club and the band as they spend a night trying to survive Stewart and his gang of skinheads.

With a breaking voice that sounds like he’s just getting it back, Anton Yelchin (Only Lovers Left Alive) is a gangly hero that spends the first twenty or so minutes in a quiet daze only to be jolted into the present by the very unfortunate circumstance he finds himself in. Alia Shawkat (The To Do List), Joe Cole (Secret in Their Eyes), and Callum Turner (Victor Frankenstein) are his bandmates, all distinctly written by Saulnier even without an excess of defining dialogue.

Who lives and who dies isn’t as clearly telegraphed as you may think, with allies popping up in unlikely places only to not be the saviors we think they are. Sporting a new wave mullet, Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment) glums around the perimeter of the action and is barely a presence until she’s called into action. Saulnier isn’t afraid to dispatch characters with little fanfare or reverence, yet the sadness of their violent deaths weighed heavily on my mind for days after.

It’s a fairly haunting film overall, with no real satisfaction gained when the credits roll. What gratification is present is seeing a director making the most out of his remaining time helming indie-ish projects. After the success of Blue Ruin and now this razor sharp crime thriller, it’s clear that while the characters he writes go down hard, Saulnier is only going up.

Movie Review ~ Room

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After 5-year old Jack and his Ma escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery: the outside world.

Stars: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Rated: R

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: You know those times in movies when the tears come more from relief than sadness?  Room has one of those moments where the tears just sprang from my eyes without much warning.  Up until that moment we’ve been so invested in the two main characters that the threat against them and the possibility of denied salvation just gets to be too much.  I’m getting ahead of myself, though…and dangerously close to spoiler territory (not that the trailer didn’t give away several key developments already).

Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her 2010 bestseller, Room is narrated largely by young Jack (brilliant newcomer Jacob Tremblay) who has only known life with his Ma (Brie Larson, The Spectacular Now) inside what he calls ‘room’.  ‘Room’ is a securely locked tiny living quarters with a bed, a makeshift kitchen, a small bathtub, and a wardrobe where Jack sometimes sleeps when a man he calls Old Nick visits.  As audience members, we gradually learn that Old Nick took Jack’s Ma when she was a teenager and has been holding her captive for years.

Being stowed away for all that time, Ma has given up hope of ever being released and has created a world inside ‘room’ where she and Jack can make it through day in and day out.  Ma cares deeply for Jack and keeps the dark crime surrounding their imprisonment a secret from him…even though he’s a daily reminder of the violations inflicted on her.  When an opportunity arises for escape, the mother and son must overcome their own fears of the life outside to make the moves necessary to secure their freedom.

It’s no secret that Ma and Jack are liberated from their confines but the story is far from over as both have a major adjustment to make back in the real world outside of ‘room’.  Jack is experiencing a life of wide-open space and new knowledges denied him until that point.  Ma works through her painful realizations of the true effect the lost time has had on her emotionally as well as physically.  Living with her mother (a stoic, supportive Joan Allen, The Bourne Legacy) and stepfather, Jack and Ma take divergent paths toward redemption that brings them closer to each other as a unit and as individuals.

Larson’s portrayal of Ma is one of the best performances you’ll see all year, resisting the urge to elicit pity and opting instead for finding renewed strength as she goes along.  She takes you on a journey through the mind of someone that was caged and then set free…what that does to a psyche and how to move forward is a difficult internal thread to show externally but Larson somehow manages to do it.  Tremblay, too, is a marvelous presence of the film as a representation of pure innocence.  Tremblay and Larson form a symbiotic, cohesive partnership to such an extent that I’m not sure either performance could have existed without the other.

Director Lenny Abrahamson opts for a decidedly non-flashy execution, letting Donoghue’s script play out with honesty.  Room is in intense watch, there’s no getting around it.  When you step back and think of the kidnapping, repeated molestation, and confinement for all these years you wonder how anyone could have survived that alone.  Larson and Tremblay show you how they got through it together.