We Are the Best! – Lukas Moodysson (2014)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/vod-review-coco-lukas-moodyssons-punk-coming-age-best/

Based on a comic book by Coco Moodysson, We Are the Best reminds me of this famous old punk flyer — here are three chords, now start a band.

The girls in this film, Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin), a couple of seventh grade punks living in Stockholm in the early 80s, don’t even know the three chords when they start their band on a whim to get one over on a group of metalheads who torment them on a daily basis, calling them ugly and dykes.

They learn to piece it together and make a good, loud racket once they enlist fellow classmate and misfit Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) after she is mercilessly booed during a school talent show for playing classical guitar in the time of ABBA.

Punk is dead, they’re constantly reminded, and worse (!), they’re girls.

Struggling against the idea that young girls in a punk band are a novelty act (a girl band), cute to look at but not much else is as much at the core of the film as friendship. It’s that sense that makes the whole “aww, adorable” critical reaction to the film a burden. To watch even part of the film is to know that Bobo, Klara and Hedvig would roll their eyes and make vomit faces at the idea that they’re aww, adorable.

It’ll be fun to have a girl band, one of the clueless counselors says when they’re invited to play a Christmas concert. Roll eyes.

Look at Bobo, she cut her own hair. Roll eyes.

The energy you dive into things when you reach your teenage years, when you’re this new person in your own eyes, but the same old person in everyone else’s eyes, will always be fascinating to me. It’s hard to watch the awkwardness at times, especially dealing with parents who can’t accept the new person they see, but that’s the stuff that binds all of us together, misfit or not, punk or not.

As much as the film shows off a return to form for Moodysson — who hasn’t made a film this good since his first, Fucking Åmål (aka Show Me Love) — it’s the killer chemistry between Miras Barkhammar and Grosin that make the film jump off of the screen and dive into your soul.

Sleeping over at Klara’s one night, Bobo has a drunken emotional breakdown — over so much: never being as cute as Klara, never getting attention from boys, having shitty parents, getting picked on, feeling like a loser and how everything is worthless — Klara is gentle, hugging her best friend as she spills her feelings and calmly reminds her that she is in the best band in the world. She is in the best band in the world and has two friends who love her. That’s all you need.

The Double – Richard Ayoade (2014)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/vod-review-richard-ayoades-the-double/

I have a suspicion that The Double, the second feature by The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade, will end up being one of the most sneaky films of the year, psychologically speaking. The film, which mixes everything from Dostoevsky and Kafka to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, is the kind of thing that says more about the viewer than it ever could about the artists.

The film stars Jessie Eisenberg and Jessie Eisenberg as Simon James and James Simon, employees at the same faceless bureaucratic conglomerate who look remarkably alike, though no one seems to notice.

Simon is a smart, hard worker who is held back by his timid anonymity; James is a confident, charming social climber who gets ahead by using Simon’s work as his own to impress their dipstick boss, Mr Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn). If they sound like George McFly and Biff Tannen, they’re not. Simon is much more of a doormat than George ever was.

Though it gets there quickly, Simon and James’s relationship doesn’t start out in the dumps. In exchange for doing his work for him, James agrees to help Simon get the attention of his office crush, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the cute girl who works in the copy office that Simon admires from afar.

Naturally, she falls for the charismatic James instead of the insubstantial Simon.

And she falls hard.

It’s hard to find an aspect of this story that hasn’t been picked over at great length in so many indie films in the past that I’ve lost count at this point. Identity crises and unrequited love — not to mention visually quoting Billy Wilder and Franz Kafka — are the motor oil that keeps the indie film machine going, but there is something else going on in The Double too that makes it special.

We’re not necessarily asked through cinematic means to side with the painfully lonely and socially awkward Simon, as we usually are in an unrequited love story. He’s basically, whether he realizes it or not, a creepy dude who doesn’t really deserve Hannah. He spies on her with a telescope and picks through her trash for the artistic scraps that she throws away. Through the lens of the the telescope, Simon should be able to see that Hannah also isn’t the manic pixie dream girl he’s in love with in his head, but he’s such a blank personality that he can’t tell the difference.

Nor are we necessarily asked to identify with James, which is where the sneakiness lies. Ayoade keeps his distance from typicality, deflecting the identity question with a free riffing symphony of beautifully deadpan comedy (aided by a great supporting cast of Shawn, Cathy Moriarty, Noah Taylor, Chris O’Dowd, Paddy Considine, and Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige who played opposite one another in Ayoade’s first film Submarine).

Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine (brother of Harmony Korine) don’t seem to hold Simon in contempt, but they don’t hold back making him the butt of their film’s cosmic joke either. It’s an existentially cutting film. Even though we’re not manipulated into identifying with either Eisenberg, the divide of love and hate for this film might exist in whether you do or don’t. If you do identify with Simon or James, or at least with the central question of the film, it’s an insightful film; if you don’t, it’s a pretentious art school waste of time.

Fading Gigolo – John Turturro (2014)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/just-a-faded-gigolo-1.1681400

John Turturro is not, objectively speaking, a handsome man. You know this, and I know this. He knows it, too. Subjectively speaking, that changes. He’s confident, conversant, funny and has a hint of the maniac in his eyes. His face, you find as you take all of that into consideration, has real character.

In Fading Gigolo, which sees him play a mild-mannered florist turned reluctant (but rather high-priced) gigolo named Fioravante, that punim is the tool that Turturro wields as both actor and director. If he were handsome, it wouldn’t be a comedy; if he were without the many traits that give him character, it would just be a joke. But his face is the Goldilocks example: just right.

With Woody Allen as his pimp, Murray, Fioravante becomes the No. 1 loverman of his ZIP code – for a price, which they split. It’s all in practice for the initial request that comes to Murray from his therapist (Sharon Stone), who nervously wants him to arrange a three-way for her and her curious best friend, Selima (Sofía Vergara).

It’s a somewhat scatterbrained, novelistic film, though. The real plot is set off when Murray brings his adopted black child to the “lice lady,” a Hasidic widow named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). Thinking she needs some comfort, Murray suggests Fioravante’s services under the guise of massage therapy. En route to her session with Fioravante, the Jewish neighborhood watchman (Liev Schreiber) with a lifelong crush on Avigal follows her to the appointment and susses out Murray’s plan, eventually kidnapping Murray to bring him before a rabbinical tribunal.

A complicated plot is fine for a novel, but in film, simple is almost always better. Each half of the plot is strange and funny in an entirely different way, but the two never mesh as a whole like they might in a novel, so the wildness of this storyline grab bag leaves the stitching far too visible.

But there is an almost perfect passage around the middle in which all of the extraneous elements part to the side and the film’s loneliness is examined. Fioravante and Avigal are characters from two different worlds, worlds that make it impossible to do anything about the budding connection they find together, but they smash face-first into the wall of love without worrying about it. For the briefest moment they find themselves. Not as a couple, but what they’re about as individuals.

It’s an elating, surprising piece of story, but it’s far too short-lived. Despite some funny moments, especially early on, before the film decides that it wants to be a little bit more than a straight comedy, you would have to say that the gigolo storyline doesn’t really fit into the film outside of the title. It’s a MacGuffin, but not on purpose. It was meant to be the funny part, but the story outgrew it and no one told Turturro. It’s brave to do something so different, but brave efforts don’t always work out. If they did, they wouldn’t require any bravery.

Dom Hemingway – Richard Shepard (2014)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/dom-hemingway-1.1677529

Bob Hoskins. Michael Caine. Terence Stamp. Clive Owen. Stephen Graham. When you think about the most noteworthy faces of English hard-men films, these are some of the names that come to mind. But Jude Law? That’s not a name that jumps out at you. Even when he’s played killers and criminals in the past (Shopping, Road to Perdition), you can still see the smiling pretty boy staring at you from under the makeup, hoping he doesn’t get caught out in a world he doesn’t belong in.

Except as Dom Hemingway, he does belong. As Dom Hemingway, he’s not a smiling pretty boy. He’s doughy and rude, bearded and maniacal – and damned funny, too.

Dom has been in jail for more than a decade, taking the time inside by himself instead of dropping the dime on his boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir). In the intervening years, Mr. Fontaine has grown more rich and powerful while Dom’s life has become tattered. His wife has divorced him, remarried and died of cancer, and his only daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), hates his guts for the betrayal and for having to grow up without a father.

Now that he’s served his time and gotten out, though, he wants what is owed to him: money, a lot of it, and Evelyn back in his life. But neither are as easy as that.

The film is a black comedy in the tradition of Snatch and Bronson, though it comes in a tick below both. Its run of sight gags and one-liners are genuinely funny, but the American instinct to always add heart to the story keeps it from reaching the truly iconic-funny heights that Guy Ritchie and Nicolas Winding Refn reached in their films.

That’s not to say it was a move in error. Dom and Evelyn’s push-pull story works in the framework of the film, and director Richard Shepard gets touching, funny moments between Dom and his young grandson, Jawara (Jordan Nash), but it sticks out somewhat, hurting the depth of shading to a degree.

Emilia Clarke, in her first real film role since shooting to fame as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, doesn’t have quite as meaty a role as she does when she plays the Khaleesi, but she is bright and believable. There is a lot of gravity to her character, and she holds it well, though her real standout scenes might be the ones in which she fronts a Pogues-esque band, including singing a cover of the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues.”

I’ve always been on the fence about Law. For every Gattaca or Closer, there are a handful of The Holidays and Cold Mountains to contend with. But if Dom isn’t his best performance, it’s certainly his funniest. I don’t know that it takes me off the fence, or makes me think he’s got a Matthew McConaughey streak coming, but he’s got three in a row now between this, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Anna Karenina and it could easily become one.

Ernest & Celestine – Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner (2014)

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Love is love. It’s a simple idea that so many people can’t grasp. Love is nothing to be afraid of. Black and white, boy and boy, girl and girl — or indeed, mouse and bear — it’s never anything to be afraid of. But it seems to only make sense to one inquisitive mouse, Celestine (Mackenzie Foy), and one hungry Bear, Ernest (Forest Whitaker), who meet quite by accident when Ernest saves Celestine’s life only to then try and eat her for a snack.

In the film’s world that is inhabited by animals like Art Speigelman’s Maus, the other mice are afraid though, and the other bears. Mice live in underground, bears above ground, and the two share very little with each other. When Ernest and Celestine find themselves on the wrong side of the law in both the bear and mice world that notion is challenged in startlingly emotional ways and the unlikely pair find each other to be perfect protectors for each other in different ways.

The animation, done in a sumptuous broken-line storybook-style watercolor, is outstanding. Despite the rumors of its demise, 2D hand-drawn animation isn’t dead, in fact it’s becoming vital again in Europe, and this is a brilliant example of what it could be again.

Forev – Molly Green and James Leffler (2014)

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We’ve all proposed to someone we barely know as a joke, right? Growing up, the movies we watched taught us that you can get to know a person intimately enough to marry them in a single day. Love is magic and predestined and nothing ever goes wrong. In the movies, when you ask a girl you barely know to marry you, she says yes and you go forth and have wonderful times together. So there is no reason to doubt the strength of Pete (Matt Mider) and Sophie’s (Noël Wells) engagement. Someone should tell that to Pete’s little sister, Jess (Amanda Bauer) who mocks their coming nuptials when the three get stranded outside of Phoenix during a road trip.

Even for a low budget indie, Forev is a kind of dumpy film. It’s the kind of film that feels like a bunch of friends got together over a few weekends with someone’s dad’s DV cam and banged it all out on the first take, just for fun. From the surface look of it, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But then something happened: I laughed. And I laughed again. Though some of the drama in the middle is a little on the stock side, Wells and Mider’s genuine and surprising on-screen chemistry, and Green and Leffler’s subtle, biting script bring it back from the brink. It doesn’t outdo Eternal Sunshine as commentary on the recklessness of movie romance on real romance, but it has plenty to say on the subject.

30 years of raiding Barry Manilow’s wardrobe

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/30-years-of-raiding-barry-manilows-wardrobe-breakfast-club/

Saturday…March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon…we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athelete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning.

We were brainwashed…

It’s such a strange and disorienting feeling when a touchstone of being young and frustrated turns a landmark age as John Hughs’s The Breakfast Club does today (or by the date it takes place on anyway; its release date was in February).

The film belongs strongly to the 80s — it might be the signature film of the 80s, in fact — but throughout the years has become timeless as generations since have picked up on its keen observations and well drawn characters. They are detailed to enough to be specific and alive, yet broad enough for everyone to have someone in the film to latch onto. Everyone has an in. It’s the basket case for me, though I can certainly see things from Brian and Andy’s perspectives as well.

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The film came out when I was still 3 years old, yet feels attuned to how I felt at 16 when I finally saw it years later. As much as they are a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal, none of them are. It’s all fear and stupidity. That’s all being a teenager is about, it just comes out in different ways. It sounds cliche and overly reductive to say it like that, but the best themes in film are always the simplest themes. It’s all a matter of dramatic (or comedic) degree after that.

Whether he actually knew he was writing about fear or not, Hughes destroyed it when he wrote the script (the first draft allegedly over one weekend — read it here, it’s a very good read and has more insight into the characters). He’d written and directed entertaining movies before (as he did after) but never made anything as powerful, perceptive, funny or universal.

There is a line in the original draft of the screenplay when Bender is hiding under the table and sticks his head up Claire’s (Cathy, early) skirt that sort of reminds of me Hughes writing this script:

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Raw, unrepeatable power is the perfect notion of this film. It’s lightning, caught.

Though as lightning does when it strikes, it leaves the ground marred. I’ve always considered the ending of the film (mostly Allison cleaning up and hooking up with Andy, while Brain is forever alone) to be a black mark on the film. I’m hardly alone in that though, of course. The issue stems from this: Hughes has the princess clean the basket case up and pairs her off with the jock. That just didn’t work for me on any level when I was younger. I considered it cinematic theft by the criminally insane misfit, John Hughes.

But I’m older now. The film is 30, I’m 33. I’m an adult, sort of, and I see the ending different — or at least I feel it less. I’m not as attached to the film itself or the characters as I am to the idea of myself being young and frustrated by adults and this film reflecting that so well. The more true ending would have been the five reverting to their social roles come Monday morning, but in a strange way Hughes might have written the most teenage ending to the film possible, because, really, what does a teenager do better than making a mistake at the worst moment?

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Christmas Crazy: Mon Oncle Antoine – Claude Jutra (1971)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/the-gist/for-reels/christmas-craaaazy-mon-oncle-antoine-claude-jutra-1971/

I’ve always found that the best kind of art is the coy kind, the kind that sneaks the seriousness in through the back door. The way Kurt Cobain used to hide the serious lyrics in a mishmash of nonsense and contradiction, or the way Bergman and Ozu could deal with death and broken dreams while still bringing the fart jokes. Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine is of that same mold, ostensibly a charming, somewhat sentimental tale of a rural Christmas from the point of view of Benoit, who at fifteen is trying to figure out his place in the cycle between his childish behaviors and his adult feelings.

The film is set in the 1940s, in a rural Quebec mining town that seems to revolve around the general store owned by Benoit’s foster family, uncle Antoine and aunt Cecile. It’s the kind of store where you buy your baby food, your wedding veil and, eventually, your coffin. In the early winter morning, everyone comes out in the cold to see the unveiling of the Christmas display in the window, but is really just a reason to get together and have a few drinks and gossip. To Benoit’s eyes — and to his foster cousin Carmen’s eyes — it’s a stuffy, vaguely oppressive environment, but the isolation of the town, where horse and sleigh are still legitimate means of transportation, leaves them bemused rather than moody and sullen until one of the miner’s children dies and Benoit and Antoine make the trip as undertakers.

It’s the first trip of the kind for Benoit, the first test of his adulthood. Will the adult overtake the child, or will the child remain? Though the film is 40 years old, it somehow becomes more relevant as the idea of delayed adulthood grips us. Jutra’s Christmas setting and balance social politics and wry comedy — mostly at the expense of the hapless townsfolk — is the perfect setup for this question. More subtly the question is also asked of Carmen, who has new feelings of her own to contend with while Benoit braves the snow to take a peek at death.

Christmas Crazy: Mixed Nuts – Norah Ephron (1994)

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/the-gist/for-reels/christmas-craaaazy-mixed-nuts-norah-ephron-1994/

As we edge ever closer Christmas and New Years and to the promise of completely failing on our newly needed diets, we discover that it is apparently both Christmas Craaaazy and Rita Wilson week here at OW Labs.

Wilson is given a somewhat more meaty role in Mixed Nuts than she was in yesterday’s film, Jingle All the Way. Here she plays Catherine, the mousy love interest to Steve Martin’s socially inept Philip. The pair work together at a suicide hotline in this Norah and Delia Ephron-penned take on the 90s LA Christmas experience and burgeoning middle-age love. The film is so hardcore 90s that it features Jon Stewart and Parker Posey as a pair of rollerblading yuppies whose run-ins with Philip set the plot in motion at several points. It’s not as classic a yuppie duo as Julia Louis Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest as the yuppies in Christmas Vacation, but it works for what it is.

Philip, of course, has no idea that Catherine is in love with him. He is in love with another woman who doesn’t really seem to like him all that much despite the fact that they’re engaged.  On top of that, he’s been lying about their ensuing eviction which will force the closure of the hotline and put Catherine out of a job.

Plot-wise, the film is a dead fish that just sits there on the screen staring back at you with lifeless eyes. The film’s comedy set pieces and gags — like Madeleine Kahn’s impromptu rap song in a broken elevator, and Schreiber (his first time in drag!) and Martin dancing through the apartment — are another story though, and that’s only to be expected when you fill out your cast with Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber, Gary Shandling and Robert Klein. The film doesn’t have the consistent rat-tat-tat pace to it like earlier Martin comedies, but there are more than a few gems to comb the beach for.

Mixed Nuts is a curious Christmas film in the sense that it only vaguely qualifies as a Christmas film. It’s more of an ode to the comic farces of the 30s with some nods to screwball comedies thrown in, but aside from using a Christmas tree as a prop to transport a dead body, this story could take place at any time of the year. Part of that stems from the fact that LA just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Coming from the Northeast, Orlando feels the same way at Christmas. It’s the palm trees and not being able to see your breath. Ephron highlights that, setting palm trees in spotlights behind Christmas trees and having snowmen rollerblade through Venice Beach. It’s disorienting set against the traditional It’s a Wonderful Life/White Christmas ideal that the movies give us, but that’s the reality for half of the country anyway.

Christmas Craaaazy: Jingle All the Way – Brian Levant (1996)

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It seems to be generally accepted that most Christmas films, Die Hard aside, are only ironically enjoyed. Most of that enjoyment comes from growing up with the limited selection of Christmas-themed movies. I grew up with the likes of Home Alone (the first and second) and A Muppet Christmas Carol, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, A Christmas Story, and I was just on the late side of the scale for The Santa Clause. I love these movies, all of them, unashamedly in the cases where shame is actually warranted.

If The Santa Clause came just before my switch to moody, miserable teenager, Jingle All the Way came just after it. I have no fond memories of it. I’ve seen it, but probably not in 15 years. This was a lame Christmas movie for the lamestain generation after mine. But could I, too, enjoy it in some way if I applied myself?

Released at the same time that the country was undergoing a deep and uncontrollable Tickle Me Elmo mood swingJingle sees Arnold Schwarzenegger as a typical American dad (suspension of disbelief engaged…) who missed out on his son Jamie’s (Young Anakin Skywalker Jake Lloyd) karate purple belt ceremony. To make up for being a shit father, he decides to buy the kid a TurboMan action figure, a toy that he was already supposed to have bought weeks ago on his wife’s (Rita Wilson) instruction. Meanwhile, a super-grabby neighbor played by Phil Hartman makes a play for the neglected Rita Wilson, as Arnie and mailman Sinbad run around town trying to track down the universally sold out toy.

It’s a bad film, of course it is. So is The Santa Clause. So is Home Alone. I’d remembered it in scraps as an awful, safe, Disneyfied cornball triumph story, but re-watching it, it’s a lot saucier than I remembered.

The film basically starts off with a series of Phil Hartman dick jokes, and moves forward with crazy post office employee jokes (that was a thing in the 90s, remember?), Unabomber and mailbomb jokes, Rodney King jokes, a drunken reindeer, more midget jokes than an 80s WWF fight card, drinking away the pain of a life ruined by bad fathers, an entire chase scene that ends in a pedophile gag setpiece in a ball pit, as well as Young Anakin Skywalker hitting the sauce (he must have seen into his own yippie-destroyed future).

While the film ends in a typical flurry of Hollywood family fluff (aside from Phil Hartman trying to force himself on Rita Wilson and getting El Kabonged with a mug of Egg Nog), those are all jokes at a subterranean Christmas spirit level that I can get firmly behind.

Throw in a seriously impressive set of cameos from Martin Mull, Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court), Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson), Laraine Newman, Harvey Korman, Chris Parnell, Danny Woodburn (Mickey from Seinfeld), Paul Wight (aka The Big Show) and Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds), and I found that, yeah, I can actually enjoy this movie. Not wholeheartedly, fully accepting of the WAH-WAAH-WAAAH jokes like I can with The Santa Clause, but it’s enough to work on some level. Enough to make me a Christmastime poseur anyway.